Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Track of the Cat (1954)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Track of the Cat (1954)

In William A. Wellman's unusual, strange and existential dark western based on Walter Van Tilburg Clark's novel - set in the 1880s in a remote mountainous region of N. California - and a film that was noted for being shot in Cinemascopic color with mostly stark black, white, and gray images:

  • the dysfunctional and tense wilderness Bridges family with poisonous relationships between everyone, led by defeated, patriarchal drunk Pa Bridges (Philip Tonge), and bitter, cold-hearted, domineering, Puritanical Bible-quoting, rigid matriarch Ma Bridges (Beulah Bondi) - the children included eldest sensitive, poetry and nature-loving son Arthur (William Hoppe), rough-hewn, bullying yet favored 37 year-old son Curt (Robert Mitchum), shy and cowed, intellectual, indecisive youngest son Harold or "Hal" (Tab Hunter), and lonely unmarried daughter Grace (Teresa Wright) - in addition, there was the family's superstitious hired hand - Joe Sam (the Little Rascals' Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer), an ancient and mysterious native American who foresaw the annual appearance of the cat
  • Harold's relationship with his fiancee - pretty neighbor farm-girl Gwen (Diana Lynn), who was semi-despised by the family
  • the legendary "cat" who appeared at the time of the first snow - a feared, livestock-killing mountain lion/cougar (or black "painter"-panther unseen in the film but often heard) reknowned in Indian lore as a vengeful evil spirit
  • the metaphoric stalking and hunting of the animal by Curt (in a bright red coat), when Arthur was killed by the "black painter" and Curt (after switching coats with Arthur), returned his brother's corpse on the back of a horse that knew its way home
  • the burial scene of Arthur at the ranch - and the POV low-angle shot from inside the rectangular grave as the coffin was lowered into the ground, and mourning Ma's regretful words about him: "Amen. Can't preach no proper sermon. Don't see much use if I could. He was a hard one to know. Even if I could make out clear every last thing about him, body and soul, and had words to tell. Don't know as it would help. If the Lord won't judge him, surely ain't my place to judge. He was a good man, like he was a good boy. Not a mean streak in him. All the things I could say, it seems to me I could have said 'em when he was alive" - at the climax of her words, Harold drove a small cross into place under the grey sky
  • the last few moments of Curt's life (now wearing Arthur's black and white coat) when he found Arthur's poetry book in the pocket - with a quote from one of John Keats' poems - causing him panic: "When I had fears that I may cease to be..." - his own epitaph; shortly later, he attempted (with his last match) to burn the pages of the poetry book, using it as fuel to avoid freezing to death - he spitefully thanked his brother: "The only time any good ever came from your moanin', boy"; after a failed attempt and in a disoriented and fearful state, Curt ran down a lengthy snowy slope and over a cliffside to his death
  • in the film's conclusion, Joe Sam and Harold located Curt's body, and the cat was shot and killed by an emboldened Harold; with cryptic words, Joe Sam declared an end to the family's troubles if Harold would get married: "Curt not kill, you kill. Him devil...No, not black, black painter, whole world...You get married, huh?...She marry, no more trouble. You boss man now!"; the two returned home - guided by the sight of the family's bonfire built collaboratively, and Harold was the new, more mature head of the more-unified family


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