Broken Lance

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Broken Lance
Broken Lance film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Screenplay by Richard Murphy
Story by Phillip Yordan
Based onI'll Never Go There Any More
(1941 novel)
by Jerome Weidman
Produced by Sol C. Siegel
Starring Spencer Tracy
Robert Wagner
Jean Peters
Richard Widmark
Katy Jurado
Cinematography Joseph MacDonald
Edited by Dorothy Spencer
Music by Leigh Harline
Color process Technicolor
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • July 29, 1954 (1954-07-29)(New York City)
  • September 25, 1954 (1954-09-25)(United States)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1,685,000 [1]
Box office$3.8 million (US rentals) [2] [3]

Broken Lance is a 1954 American Western film directed by Edward Dmytryk and produced by Sol C. Siegel. The film stars Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner, Jean Peters, Richard Widmark, and Katy Jurado.


Shot in Technicolor and CinemaScope, the film is a remake of House of Strangers (1949) with the Phillip Yordan screenplay (based upon the novel I'll Never Go There Any More by Jerome Weidman), transplanted out west, featuring Tracy in the original Edward G. Robinson role, this time as a cowboy cattle baron rather than an Italian banker in New York City. It has been widely noted that the story bears a strong resemblance to King Lear .


Matthew Devereaux (Spencer Tracy) is a ranch owner who has built an enormous ranch and mining empire. He raised his sons to carry on his fierce, hard-working Irish settlement spirit that helped make him a success. However, as a consequence, he's never shown fatherly affection to his three older sons by his late first wife: Ben, Mike, and Denny (played respectively by Richard Widmark, Hugh O'Brian, and Earl Holliman). He treats these grown men (in their 30s to 40s) little better than hired help. Even though they manage the day-to-day operations of the ranch and other enterprises full time, Matt still retains complete authority, right down to the smallest decisions, angering his eldest son. This resentment leads the three eldest sons to unite against their father.

Joe (Robert Wagner) is Matt's biracial son by his second wife (Katy Jurado), a Native American who pretends to be Mexican. The town's people call her "Señora" out of respect for Matt, but not out of respect for her. Because of Joe's mixed ethnicity, he is treated prejudicially by his three Caucasian half-brothers. Matt's power and prestige keeps the discrimination by the townspeople towards Joe to a minimum, so long as Joe, an emerging young adult, is principally interested in riding the range alone, and spending time at his mother's native American reservation and with her people.

Joe, who shows no interest in owning or running the ranch empire, loves his father and would do anything for him. Because of his wife's insistence that he change his attitude towards their son, Matt comes to appreciate and regularly converse with his youngest son. The three older brothers interpret Matt's relationship with Joe and his treatment of them as if he has only one son instead of four as a rejection by their father. Their resentment deepens.

Matt, Ben, Joe and two Indian workers catch the two middle sons and four accomplices rustling Matt's cattle, resulting in two of the four accomplices getting killed. Joe pleads for leniency towards his errant brothers but an outraged Matt banishes them, later reluctantly taking them back into the family when a crisis arises.[ clarification needed ]

There is a copper mine on Matt's land, and he has leased out the mineral rights. After 40 head of cattle die, Matt determines the mine is polluting a stream where he waters his cattle. He becomes furious and leads a raid on the mine offices and director. The court issues a warrant to arrest whoever was responsible for the attack. To spare his father the agony and humiliation of a stay behind bars, Joe claims responsibility and is sentenced to three years in prison.

Ben and his other brothers rebel against their father during Joe's absence with such fierceness that the old man suffers a fatal stroke. Joe is permitted to leave prison long enough to attend his father's funeral, during which he formally severs his ties with his brothers and proclaims a blood feud. [4]

Having served his prison sentence, Joe returns to the ranch. The señora, his mother, who went to live with her people after Matt's death, persuades him to forget revenge and leave the country. Joe takes her advice, but Ben, fearing Joe's revenge for indirectly causing their father's death, ambushes and tries to kill Joe. The two half-brothers fight until Two Moons, the ranch foreman, saves Joe's life by shooting Ben dead before he can shoot an unarmed Joe. Time passes, and Joe and his new wife Barbara (Jean Peters) visit Matt's grave. There, Joe sees the down-turned lance, the Indian symbol for a blood feud, and breaks it in half, thus ending the feud. [4]


Spencer Tracy and Katy Jurado Spencer Tracy Katy jurado broken lance1.jpg
Spencer Tracy and Katy Jurado


The film won the Oscar for Best Story for Philip Yordan. Katy Jurado was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Jurado's role was originally for Dolores del Río. The film also won a Golden Globe Award as Best Film Promoting International Understanding. The New York Times reviewer A.H. Weiler wrote "Although the saga of the self-made, autocratic cattle baron… is familiar film fare, Broken Lance… makes a refreshingly serious and fairly successful attempt to understand these towering men...[T]he rugged, vast and beautiful terrain of the Southwest is impressive and pleasing in the colors and CinemaScope in which it was filmed." [5]

Home media

The film was released on DVD on May 24, 2005. Viewers have the option of watching either a "pan and scan" full screen version or the original wide screen version. Both versions have stereophonic sound and have been digitally restored. [6] The film has since been released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time in the correct CinemaScope aspect ratio of 2.55:1.

See also

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  1. Solomon, p249
  2. Solomon, p225
  3. 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954', Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955
  4. 1 2 Broken Lance at the TCM Movie Database
  5. Weiler, A. H. (July 30, 1954). "The Screen in Review". The New York Times . p. 9. Retrieved February 27, 2020.
  6. "Broken Lance". Amazon.