Devil's Doorway (1950)

Film Review

DEVIL'S DOORWAY

Release Date: 15 September, 1950

Studio: MGM

Directors: Anthony Mann

Starring: Robert Taylor, Louis Calhern

Synopsis

Broken Lance returns home from the Civil War with the rank of Sergeant in the U.S. Cavalry and a Congressional Medal of Honor. For several generations, his family has lived and raised cattle in Sweet Water Valley, Wyoming. Conditions have changed since Lance left for the war. New settlers, including sheepmen, have moved into the area. Not only are many of these settlers antagonistic toward Indians occupying the land, but under the law of the new Wyoming Territory, Indian-occupied land is open to homesteading. When Lance attempts to homestead his land, he learns that the law prohibits homesteading by Indians. When sheepmen move onto his land, Lance and his fellow tribesman drive them off. The settlers return in force, and a battle ensues in which many on both sides are killed. Finally, the cavalry arrives to end the fighting. Lance and his compatriots know that they cannot keep their valley, their only recourse is to fight for it until they are dead.

Discussion

The conflict between Native Americans and white settlers is treated with a film noir sensibility. Shot in black and white by famed noir cameraman John Alton, dark shadows fill the house of Taylor’s family and permeate their future. The mood is bleak and doom-laden. From the first scene, the film tracks to its inevitable conclusion the interaction between the Native Americans who occupy the land and the white newcomers who intend to live on it. The doomed hero fights forces that he cannot defeat, and he dies rather than surrender. The screenplay is a powerful statement about the inevitable outcome of the conflict between native populations and white settlers. However, white actors playing Native Americans, an accepted practice during the 1950s, is unacceptable now.