Track of the Cat (1954)

Directed By: William A. Wellman

Screenplay By: A.I. Bezzerides

Cinematography By: William H. Clothier

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Teresa Wright, Beulah Bondi, Tab Hunter, Philip Tonge, Diana Lynn, William Hopper & Carl Switzer

Runtime 102 minutes

If you want to see a move that most assuredly inspired Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight watch this movie. Not only is it worth the watch because of the resonance it’s clearly had with Tarantino, but it is an exception film to boot. The acting is superb, the direction fantastic, the location isolating, the themes compelling, and the relationships fundamentally human.

Track of the Cat has the feeling of a play but it undeniably cinematic.

The weakest and most upsetting part of the movie is the portrayal of an old Native America named Joe Sam played by Carl Switzer. The dialogue and make-up for this character are unequivocally racist. It’s not Jim Crow racism but rather the inherent lack of respect and understanding. Whereas all the other characters are multi-dimensional people, Joe Sam is a one-dimensional caricature. One can write it off saying it’s due to the times and there’s no way around it, but I feel that a movie that gets so much right should not be given the benefit of the doubt for something they got so terribly wrong. Luckily the modern viewer is bailed out of this racism for most of the film as Joe Sam is relatively scarce throughout the film and isn’t given too much important dialogue until the end. However, it is his presence at the end that will leave the viewer with the sourest taste in his mouth, because again the rest of the movie has so much right that it is hard to not feel dirtied with this last minute lingering racist presence.

Ironically one of the themes of this movie is racism, the western idea of manifest destiny, and it’s lingering effects. In that reasoning maybe the Joe Sam caricature is both the proof that racism still exists and (possibly) the filmmakers decision to make the audience grapple with that very idea.

Track of the Cat is a remarkable movie and one that should certainly be watched.

God Bless America