May 8, 2024

DEVIL’S DOORWAY and Some Ironic Casting

1950 / 84 min
Available at
Review by Mr. Paws😺

I suppose we should first address the elephant in the room. Devil’s Doorway was one of the earliest westerns depicting bigotry and injustices inflicted on indigenous people, yet its Native-American main protagonist is still played by a middle-aged white guy. For such a thematically empathetic film, I find that a little ironic.

Not that star Robert Taylor does a bad job in the role of Lance Poole, a decorated soldier returning home after the Civil War only to face losing his land due to the Homestead Act (which forbids Native-Americans from owning land). As usual, he delivers an earnest, dedicated performance. But in terms of both race and age, he’s simply the wrong guy for the job.

Still, it’s a good enough film that we can (mostly) overlook such a dubious casting choice. Much of that is due to director Anthony Mann and screenwriter Guy Trosper’s serious & sympathetic handling of the subject matter. Mann has visited themes of Indigenous injustice in other westerns, but never quite like this, painting a damning picture. 

A Man Called Horsey.
Hence, Devil’s Doorway is a pretty downbeat western for its time (as it should be), never putting the viewer at ease with the promise of a rosy ending. The film also benefits from a few interesting key supporting characters, such as Orrie Masters (Paula Raymond), an idealistic but conflicted young lawyer who takes Poole’s case when he fights for the right to keep his family’s land from greedy white ranchers. The movie also has a doozy of a villain in Verne Coolan (Louis Calhern), a smug, conniving and manipulative lawyer who incites the locals to violently try and claim Poole’s land, leading to an exciting climactic showdown. 

While we may not necessarily buy Taylor as a tribal leader, Devil’s Doorway is a unique, little-seen western that serves up action and relevant themes in equal measures. It’s not the most uplifting movie on Earth, but certainly deserves to be rediscovered.


2 CARTOON SHORTS - “The Chump Champ” & “Cue Ball Cat.”


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