Blu-ray Review: Backlash | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, September 24th, 2020  


Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Sep 07, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

In her 2011 book In Lonely Places: Noir Beyond the City, film scholar and perennial Criterion supplement contributor Imogen Sara Smith explores the ways in which the noir movement found its way into stories beyond the typical “private eye on the mean streets” structure associated with the form. One genre that made for an atypical crossover was the western, which was moving into a darker and more mature period concurrent with (and perhaps helped along by) the rise of noir as a style. Westerns of the late 1940s and early 1950s quickly moved away from the strict white hats vs. black hats formula that had dominated the genre since its inception, tackling issues of race, alienation and the cost of violence. Films like Blood on the Moon, Devil’s Doorway and The Naked Spur transported the stars, themes and imagery of the typically urban form of noir to the wide open plains of the West.

On paper, the 1956 film Backlash fits comfortably into the cycle of films Smith is discussing. Starring perennial noir protagonist Richard Widmark as a man hunting his father’s killer across the deserts and trading towns of Arizona, Backlash trades in the same themes as its noir contemporaries, but to little interest or memorable effect. Directed by John Sturges several years before The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape would cement his place in film history, the film is episodic in structure, following Widmark’s Jim Slater from town to town and as he pieces together clues surrounding his father’s death and a hidden cache of gold. Donna Reed - best know as Mrs. George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life - is on hand as a mysterious femme fatale whose husband died alongside Slater’s father. Never grim enough to qualify as a noir and not immersive or sweeping enough to compete with other mid-50s Westerns, Backlash likely won’t hold the interest of fans of either form.



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