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The movie deals with the stark realities of an isolated ranching family pitting itself vs the forces of nature an early winter snowstorm, and the ravages of a wild panther Mitchum's character, Curt Bridges is on the hunt and also struggling to survive If we meditate the method he measures it, we see how his mind starts more and more to wander and less and less able to focus We see him more and more aware of pain and discomfort His hope comes and diminishes and departs and then returns So there's an unceasing sense of doom in those sequences that simply were hunting The brothers represent various approaches by boy to nature Curt wants to dominate nature, wishes to control it Arthur is just the opposite He is so gentle and understanding that he can't deal with nature He doesn't have the hardness that Curt has And there's Harold who was the successful one because he has enough strength to deal with harshness of nature The Indian is the one who believes in the cat as a myth, as a mystery and as something almost sacred Because of the legend of the cat he has Arthur carve wooden cats out each year to avert danger Actually this is a very sterile family The old boy only deal with life through drink and through remembering the past The mother is a very unlikable woman She is manipulative, and she simply wants to be heard You don't see any love interests or connections except for the younger brother Fear is very much a part of "Track of the Cat." It is the foreboding, ever-present backdrop really to the drama
"Track of the Cat" has been in limbo for years for few reasons. One, John Wayne's son, Michael, in charge of Batjac productions, refused to allow it be distributed on DVD or otherwise until recently (Michael is actually deceased but his widow worked out a deal with Paramount). Two, the movie was not all that successful when first released. Only the drawing power of Robert Mitchum and another cast members sold what tickets were bought by the film goers of the day. Three, it was basically a pet project for director William A. Wellman who had fallen in love with the ebook by "The Ox-Bow Incident" writer, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, a several years before and had dreams of putting it on the large screen in glorious black and white color. He wished to experiment with color technique by having his cinematographer (who turned out to be William H. Clothier) test mainly black and white settings including the clothing and furnishings, with a several exceptions such as Robert Mitchum's bright red coat, the brightness of fire, etc. Producer John Wayne was so satisfied with Wellman's success with such box office hits as "The High and the Mighty" that he allow him have his way. The effect is a masterful work unlike anything else the viewer is likely to see on the large screen. The fresh process of Cinemascope captures the white canvas of the countryside covered with fresh fallen snow wondrously. The interior shots tend to be cramped and the dialog talky reminding the viewer of a scene play. The exterior scenes are truly superb and add much to the texture of the storyline about a dysfunctional, isolated family, the Bridges (as in bridges to cross), preyed upon by a ferocious black panther, or so the Native American hired hand, Joe Sam (Our Gang's Alfalfa), says. The panther, whatever color the viewer decides it to be, is symbolic of the turmoil and apprehension that has become part of the guild as a effect of rivalry for domination within the group. The panther becomes an obsession that brings out the truth and ultimately decides the family's fate.Robert Mitchum, in a various kind role, plays the oldest son, Curt, an egomaniac, selfish to the core, but with the heart of a coward. Still, the family looks to him for leadership. He says everyone that he is going to place a bullet between the panther's eyes. The second son, Arthur, played with élan by William Hopper of Perry Mason fame, is kindhearted though meek, loving poetry with no desire to be a leader. He wishes to allow the panther be. The youngest son, Harold, played by teen idol, Tab Hunter, is young, innocent, and in love with a neighbor, Gwen Williams (Diana Lynn), who is spending time at the Bridges' farm to be close to Harold during the inclement weather. The self-proclaimed matriarch who tries to ramrod the family with threats, guilt trips, and Bible citations, is Ma Bridges (Beulah Bondi). She has so far successfully kept her brood under her control and away from nubile bliss, including the only daughter, Grace (Teresa Wright), actually a spinster. Harold threatens to tear Ma's house down by marrying Gwen whom Ma naturally despises with a determination to rid the family of this interloper and intruder. Pa Bridges (Philip Tonge) has become a drunken milquetoast and somewhat of a dirty old man, especially around Gwen, as a effect of years of badgering and nagging by Ma. The storyline involves the two oldest sons hunting the countryside for the panther preying on their cattle. Yet the panther is the catalyst that connects the dots to reveal the truth that leads to a fresh beginning for the Bridges.The drama reminds one of an adaptation of a Eugene O'Neill enjoy in some ways, especially the part dealing with the alcoholic father. Unfortunately, the movie falters in the dramatic department yet somewhat compensates in the hunt for the panther. Though not a long film, making it at least fifteen mins shorter with more action and less talk would have benefited the production greatly. The test of the panther as a symbol was inspired. As Joe Sam tells toward the end when commenting on the color of the beast, "Black pant'er, entire world."
A lot of folks were disappointed by "track of the cat" .Some expected a western ,hadn't Wellmann made a masterpiece of this type with "the ox-bow incident"?And more were disappointed by Mitchum's part.I do think that "track of the cat" is an underrated work;almost unique,it's very difficult to compare it with other film.Roughly,it's the storyline a family under the thumb of a tough guy ,Curt(Mitchum) and his holier-than-thou mother(Bondi).Two members of this family are different:Curd's sister(Wright) who remained a spinster and tries to rebel vs the others .She tries to create her younger brother,Harold,marry a woman ,Gwen ,who knows better :Harold is a shy sexually repressed young boy who's looked upon as a sissy by Curd.What's really bewildering is that,after half an hour,Mitchum and the rest of the family go separate ways.He 's on the trail of a wildcat he absolutely wants to kill.While he's away,Gwen tries to urge Harold to leave home ,the unity of the family starts to fragment at the edges.More than the splendid landscapes where Mitchum dressed in red wanders and lights his fire with the pages of a ebook of Keats poems(in an almost contemporary work ,Bunuel's "la mort en ce jardin" ,they light a fire with pages of the nice ebook after all!),Arthur's funeral is the highlight of the film :filmed in "subjective camera" (seen ,so to speak ,thru the dead's eyes) ,it shows the living in front of the gaping hole.Editing is often unbelievable and succeeds in connecting the two apparently separate stories.The mystery touch is increased by the old Indian's presence ,who seems to know all the secrets of those hostile mountains.
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