Track of the Cat

Track of the Cat is a 1954 Warnercolor Western film directed by William A. Wellman and starring Robert Mitchum and Teresa Wright. The film is based on a 1949 adventure novel of the same name by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. This was Wellman's second adaptation of a Clark novel, the first being The Ox-Bow Incident. Track of the Cat was produced by John Wayne and Robert Fellows for their Wayne/Fellows production company.

Track of the Cat
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWilliam A. Wellman
Produced byRobert Fellows
John Wayne
Screenplay byA.I. Bezzerides
Based onthe novel Track of the Cat
by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
StarringRobert Mitchum
Teresa Wright
Music byRoy Webb
CinematographyWilliam H. Clothier
Edited byFred MacDowell
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • November 27, 1954 (1954-11-27) (United States)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2 million[1]


The squabbling Bridges family spends a harsh winter on their remote ranch in northern California in the early years of the 20th century. Crude and quarrelsome middle brother Curt (Robert Mitchum) bullies his noble, unselfish eldest brother Arthur (William Hopper), while youngest brother Harold (Tab Hunter) endures Curt’s abuse in browbeaten silence. Their mother (Beulah Bondi) is a bigoted religious zealot and their father (Philip Tonge) is a loquacious, self-pitying drunk. Bitter old maid sister Grace (Teresa Wright) is temporarily gladdened by the arrival of Harold’s fiancé, spirited Gwen (Diana Lynn).

Their ancient Native American hired hand Joe Sam (Carl Switzer) alerts the family to a panther prowling the hills. Many years before his family was wiped out by a panther. Joe Sam’s superstitious dread of the panther irritates domineering Curt. Curt and Arthur split up to track the panther while the family tensely awaits their return.

Gentle Harold tries to avoid conflict with his parents while Gwen tenderly encourages him to assert his claim to an equal share of the ranch. Although Grace tries to support her youngest brother and his fiancé, Ma Bridges spews hateful suspicion at Gwen, but she ignores the family’s histrionics calmly for Harold’s sake.

By the end of the story, the major conflicts have been resolved, but not without tragedy and loss. The remaining characters seem hopeful that their ordeal may have created the basis for a happier future.



The outdoor scenes were filmed on Mount Rainier, Washington and Mitchum regarded shooting in the deep snow and cold as the worst filming conditions he had ever experienced.[2]

Director William A. Wellman had always intended to film a black & white movie in color. His idea was that if a movie were to be shot in mostly monochromatic shades, with stark blacks and whites and otherwise mostly very subdued colours that were almost shades of grey, he could use bright colors very sparingly for intense dramatic effect. The photography of William Clothier was designed to highlight black and white and downplay colors. Only key elements like the blue matches, the fire, and Mitchum's red coat stand out.


Film critic Bosley Crowther gave the film a mixed review, writing, "But, for the most part, Mr. Wellman's big-screen picture seems a heavy and clumsy travesty of a deep matriarchal melodrama or a Western with Greek overtones. And the business of the brother hunting the panther in the great big CinemaScope outdoors, while the family booze and blather in the ranch-house, has the nature of an entirely different show ... This, in the last analysis, is the trouble with the film: it has no psychological pattern, no dramatic point. There's a lot of pretty snow scenery in it and a lot of talk about deep emotional things. But it gets lost in following some sort of pretense."[3]

More recently film critic Dennis Schwartz wrote positively about the film, "A brilliantly realized ambitious dark, brooding Western set in the 1880s in northern California on an isolated snowbound ranch. It is based on the book by Walter van Tilburg Clark, one of whose other books, The Ox-Bow Incident, had also been filmed by William Wellman (The High and the Mighty). The scorching literate script is by A.I. Bezzerides. It has the haunting feel of a Poe work and the primitive savageness of Indian folklore. Cinematographer William H. Clothier bleached out the primary colors and that gave the images the look of a black and white film. The haunting luminous look created was very effective in charging the film with the sub-textual sexual energy that lingers from the hot melodramatics and also giving it an alluring aura of mystery."[4]


  1. 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1955', Variety Weekly, January 25, 1956
  2. Lee Server, Robert Mitchum: "Baby, I Don't Care", St. Martin's Press, 2001, page 259.
  3. Crowther, Bosley, film review, The New York Times, "The Screen in Review; Track of the Cat Is Seen at Paramount", December 2, 1954. Accessed: June 30. 2013.
  4. Schwartz, Dennis, Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, December 24, 2005. Accessed: June 30, 2013.

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