The Iron Mistress

The Iron Mistress is a 1952 film drama directed by Gordon Douglas and starring Alan Ladd as Jim Bowie. It ends with Bowie's marriage to Ursula de Veramendi and does not deal with his death at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836.[2]

The Iron Mistress
Directed byGordon Douglas
Produced byHenry Blanke
Written byJames R. Webb
Based onThe Iron Mistress
1951 novel
by Paul Iselin Wellman
StarringAlan Ladd
Virginia Mayo
Music byMax Steiner
CinematographyJohn F. Seitz
Edited byAlan Crosland Jr.
Release date
19 November 1952
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.9 million (US rentals)[1]

It was the first film Ladd made at Warner Bros. after spending a decade at Paramount Pictures.


In the early 19th century, Jim Bowie leaves his home in the Louisiana bayou to sell lumber in New Orleans. He inadvertently offends Narcisse de Bornay by defending the future famous artist James Audubon and is challenged to a duel, but charms his way out of it, and Narcisse becomes his friend.

Narcisse notices that his sister Judalon has caught Jim's eye and is concerned, knowing how haughty and spoiled she is. Henri Contrecourt, a man who has been courting her, kills Narcisse and challenges Jim to a fight, his sword versus Bowie's knife. To the surprise of everyone watching, Jim kills him. Later on, a blacksmith creates a special new knife for Bowie, partly made from the remains of a meteor.

Judalon rejects his proposal to marry wealthy Philippe de Cabanal instead. A disappointed Jim returns home and gets into the cotton business, upsetting Juan Moreno, a wealthy Mississippi cotton grower. He soon encounters Judalon, who says she wants to divorce Philippe and hints she would then marry Jim, if only he could help them erase a huge gambling debt Philippe has incurred to dangerous Bloody Jack Sturdevant.

Jim learns he has been betrayed by her again, that Judalon actually intends to wed Moreno for his money. In a fight, he kills Moreno, upsetting her. Jim is wounded and nursed to health by Ursula Veramendi, daughter of the Governor of the Texas province of adjacent Mexico. And when both Philippe and Bloody Jack Sturdevant come to kill him, they accidentally end up murdering each other. Realizing once and for all that Judalon only wants money, not love, Jim begins a new life with Ursula.


Original novel

Paul Wellman's novel was published in 1951. The Los Angeles Times called it "a rattling good story".[3] The New York Times called it "an excellent quasi fictional biography from that skein of tangled legend and fact."[4]

The book became a best seller.[5] Warner Bros bought the film rights and Errol Flynn was mentioned as a possible star.[6] However Alan Ladd had also signed a contract with Warners; he read a copy of the novel and wanted to do it.[7]


Henry Blanke was the producer and James Webb was assigned to do the screenplay.

During filming a fire swept through the Warner Bros lot but the unit for Iron Mistress was on location at the time.[8]

Alan Ladd injured his knee during the shoot[9] and broke his hand on the last day of filming.[10]

Gordon Douglas later said he "loved" filming the scene where Ladd duels in a darkened room. "There were other things in the picture that were nice," he added. "I always liked Virginia Mayo, she was a wonderful gal."[11]

See also


  1. 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, January 7, 1953.
  2. Bosley Crowther, "The Iron Mistress", New York Times, November 20, 1952 accessed July 6, 2012.
  3. Books: Adventures, Loves of Alamo Hero Told James Bowie's Life Traced From New Orleans to San Antonio Tragedy Jordan-Smith, Paul. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 22 July 1951: D5.
  4. The Man With a Knife By HOFFMAN BIRNEY. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 29 July 1951: 156.
  5. The Nation's Best Sellers The Washington Post (1923-1954) [Washington, D.C] 07 Oct 1951: B7.
  6. WARNERS TO FILM LIFE OF COL. BOWIE: Studio Purchases Wellman's 'The Iron Mistress,' Novel About Hero of Alamo By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 11 Oct 1951: 59
  7. Looking at Hollywood: Alan Ladd Expected to Star in 'The Iron Mistress' Film Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963) [Chicago, Ill] 21 Dec 1951: a4.
  8. WARNER BROS. STUDIO SWEPT BY $1,500,000; FIRE: Stars Help to Fight Big Studio Blaze Los Angeles Times 17 May 1952: 1.
  9. Alan Ladd's Knee Injured in Film Fight Los Angeles Times 26 Apr 1952: 18.
  10. Alan Ladd Breaks Hand Los Angeles Times 29 May 1952: 4.
  11. Davis, Ronald L. (2005). Just making movies. University Press of Mississippi. p. 197.
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