At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

ARROW IN THE DUST (WB Archive)

By • May 11th, 2015 •

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A fascinating first act finds Bart Laish (Sterling Hayden), an army deserter, deftly staying one step ahead of the authorities who are trying to track him down. Fate creates a military alias for him, and he joins a beleaguered wagon train under attack from Indians. He excels as a leader under the circumstances, but when will his charade end, and then what? All of this fast-paced exposition is compelling and dramatic. And then…

About Ellis (PETER GUNN TV, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN) Carter’s cinematography, we’ll never know. Allied Artists/Monogram Films’ color features began fading on their way between the camera and the lab – at least it seemed that way. The film’s credits declare that it was shot in ‘Technicolor’, but someone’ll have to prove it to me. This source material has the most time-deterioration-wear I’ve ever seen. Mismatched shots in terms of color and grain, day-for-night now displayed as day, soft focus, registration problems, probable stock footage which is visually different from everything before and after it. It could be used as a teaching tool for how not to protect negative materials.

Now I don’t want to read too much into all that, but I’m sure the visual chaos perfectly synchronized with Sterling Hayden’s state of mind at the time. In 1951 he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee about his former Communist affiliations, and ‘named names.” He didn’t have to be held in contempt; he held himself in contempt, loudly, in print and in interviews from that time until the end of his life. And now here he is, a mere three years later, playing a deserter who betrayed his men, a coward, on the run and filled with self-loathing. Mighty interesting co-incidence. Works quite well as subtext.

Co-starring with Hayden is lovely, creamy-skinned Coleen (THE LEECH WOMAN) Gray, a fitting 5’ 8” against Hayden’s 6’ 5”, who played opposite him again in Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING two years later. Ms. Gray is still with us in her 90s.

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