“Broken Lance” is a 1954 film starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner and the beautiful Jean Peters. It was directed by Edward Dmytyk.
Matthew Devereaux (Spencer Tracy) is an old-school Irishman who has spent a lifetime building a huge cattle ranch — 50,000 cows spread over a huge section of an unidentified state. He has three sons with his first wife, who passes away when the boys are young, and a fourth son, Joe, with his second wife, an American Indian, Senora, (Katy Jurado), which makes Joe a half breed in a time when that is still forbidden.
The older three boys are jealous of Matthew’s obvious favoritism of Joe, and led by the oldest, Ben (Richard Widmark), they manage to steal their father’s ranch and have Joe sent to prison for three years — the combination of which kills off Matthew.
The movie opens with Joe getting out of prison, quickly settles into a prolonged flashback, and then moves forward again as we learn how Joe handles his brothers and his love for the governor’s daughter. The acting, dialog and cinematography are beautiful.
I was fortunate enough to see the picture recently at the Lone Pine Film Festival. It was shown on a large screen, so we got to see it the way it was meant to be seen — in all of its glory. The highlight was that following the film Robert Wagner — who’s getting close to 90 years old — took questions for 45 minutes. His love for Spencer Tracy was mentioned more than once, and in a humorous, self-effacing way, we learned a lot about Mr. Wagner (RJ) and his career. Getting to be a part of that took an excellent film and made it unforgettable.