One of the strangest films ever to have come out of Hollywood, this 1954 feature is one of the movies William Wellman directed for John Wayne's production company during the 1950s, but it doesn't feature Wayne as an actor, and as an unabashed art film has scant relation to the others. Turning to a novel by william Van Tilburg Clark (who also wrote The Ox-Bow Incident) set on and around a snow-covered farm in the remote Nevada mountains, Wellman designed most of the film in black and white but shot it in color as well as CinemaScope (William H. Clothier's cinematography is stunning), yielding a drama of the 1880s that alternates between stylized, claustrophobic sets and spacious locations. The script is by the great A.I. Bezzerides (Kiss Me Deadly, On Dangerous Ground), who later complained that Wellman insisted on shooting his overwritten first draft, and the story is basically a dysfunctional family drama with metaphysical trimmings. (Bertrand Tavernier has compared it to the work of Dreyer, and it's certainly the closest that American cinema has ever come to Ordet.) Robert Mitchum heads an impressive, eccentric cast including Beulah Bondi as the bitter and puritanical mother, Philip Tonge as the alcoholic father, Teresa Wright, William Hopper, and Tab Hunter as Mitchum's siblings, Diana Lynn as Hunter's fiancee, and Carl Switzer (once "Alfalfa" in the Our Gang comedies) as an aged Native American working as a handyman. The title beast—a murderous black panther who's never seen, hunted by Mitchum—might or might not be a curse against the people who stole the land. John Keats provides Mitchum's chilling epitaph.
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