Devil’s Doorway, 1950

RT1969Devil’s Doorway is an indescribably sad movie. It is directed by Anthony Mann and photographed in Caravaggesque black and white by cinematographer John Alton. The film is a story about war, peace, love and bigotry. At the end of the Civil War, a veteran of the Union Army, Lance Poole, returns to his home in Wyoming. Poole, (Robert Taylor), a Shoshone Indian, has had his fill of fighting and simply wants to live in peace on his family’s ancestral acres.

The West, however, is changing. Wyoming has become a territory and the railroad is spreading westward. Immigration from the drought ridden states of the Midwest is filling Wyoming with sheepherders who need land and water to survive. New territorial laws are Draconian in respect to Indians—they are not American citizens, but wards of the government. Land that has been in their families for generations is now open to anyone who wants to homestead there.

A lawyer named Vern Coolan (Louis Calhern) has moved West for his health. He hates Indians, especially Lance Poole, or Broken Lance, a “rich Indian.” Coolan stirs up trouble Devil02by encouraging the sheep men to homestead Poole’s land. Poole goes to the only lawyer in town other than Coolan, one A. Masters (Paula Raymond). At first horrified that she is a woman, Poole does hire her to help him.

Coolan is successful in mobilizing the sheep men and the Indians, led by Broken Lance, must fight to survive. Masters involves the army in a misguided attempt to save the man she now loves. A final battle ensues with the predictable outcome. Broken Lance, a holder of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his war service, surrenders to the cavalry.

A sub-theme of the film is the confinement of Indians to the reservations. Their men dead, a small group of women and children is forced to return to a reservation from their shelter on Poole’s land. Watching them trudge away to a life of confinement is heart breaking. devil03There are no happy endings here.

Robert Taylor is superb as Broken Lance Poole. When offered the role, Mr. Taylor was happy to act in a film that, for once, saw things from the Indian point of view. It is the same year he made another film, Ambush, that saw Indians as villains. Lance Poole gradually morphs into Broken Lance as Taylor is forced to accept that the world only sees the color of his “hide.”His manner of dress changes as does his personality. Lance Poole was a happy man looking forward to the future. Broken Lance sees that there is no future for him.

The supporting cast of Marshall Thomson, James Mitchell, Edgar Buchanan, Spring Byington and Fritz Lieber, are first rate. The music by Daniele Amfithreatrof is muted and devil01sorrowful, except for the battle scenes.

Broken Arrow, with James Stewart and Jeff Chandler, was made after Devil’s Doorway but released first. It was a more upbeat and successful take on Indians. Devil’s Doorway did make money but, according to the studio, only a net profit of $25,000. Today the film is highly regarded for its hard edged honesty, first-rate acting, subtle direction and superb photography.



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With Paula Raymond


Middle photo: with Fritz Lieber

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Promotional materials:

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About giraffe44

I became a Robert Taylor fan at the age of 15 when his TV show, "The Detectives" premiered. My mother wanted to watch it because she remembered Mr. Taylor from the thirties. I took one look and that was it. I spent the rest of my high school career watching Robert Taylor movies on late night TV, buying photos of him, making scrapbooks and being a typical teenager. College, marriage and career intervened. I remember being sad when Mr. Taylor died. I mailed two huge scrapbooks to Ursula Thiess. I hope she got them. Time passed, retirement, moving to Florida. Then in 2012 my husband Fred pointed that there were two Robert Taylor movies that evening on Turner Classic Movies--"Ivanhoe" and "Quentin Durward." I watched both and it happened all over again. I started this blog both for fans and for people who didn't know about Robert Taylor. As the blog passes 200,000 views I'm delighted that so many people have come by and hope it will help preserve the legacy of this fine actor and equally good man.
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2 Responses to Devil’s Doorway, 1950

  1. Hi Judith: I just watched Devil’s Doorway again the other night. It is one of I think Robert Taylor’s greatest performances. I believe he deserved an Oscar for this role. What a powerful movie and such a brave story for the 1950’s when indians were still being portrayed in movies as the enemy. I have told so many people about this movie and think it should be shown in school history classrooms. It really shows how unfair the American indian was treated.
    Kind Regards, Linda Doty


  2. giraffe44 says:

    Hi, Linda. I agree with you. It’s a shame that “Broken Arrow” came out first and “Devil’s Doorway” was looked at as a “me, too” since people didn’t know that DD had been made first. MGM didn’t have the guts to release it on time. I particularly like where Lance says to Orrie, “in a hundred years this might have worked.” A courageous film.


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