Lancaster’s film is set in President Monroe’s second term, and to be brief it describes the westward movement of the title character toward Texas.
Thus much critics could understand, and did understand. Bosley Crowther, New York Times man on the beat, panned it with everything he’d got, contradicting Variety in the process, which said of the director, “he does a fairly competent first-job of handling most every one but himself,” whereas Crowther put forth he directed no-one at all but himself. Tom Milne roughly agreed it was a poor thing in Time Out Film Guide, Halliwell found “moments of interest”.
The thing is deeply-laid in the early 1820s for a reason, and with style to match, the cast of language and of mind permeates it all through, and this isn’t to get a rigorous authenticity of the time but to let the time leave its mark rigorously on the film.
Heading west away from a feud to the great land beyond, a stop at Prideville lands the Kentuckian in jail, he escapes and buys the freedom of an indentured servant and with his son and their hound dog they make their way to Humility, where his brother is a merchant.
The great temptation is to civilize and settle down and forget the call of Moses Austin’s land grant and bury the Gabriel horn that calls the hound away from the fox, steamboat passage to New Orleans must be earned and on to Texas, but no critic saw so much or interpreted the representation of time and milieu correctly.
Thomas Hart Benton was commissioned by the director to portray man and boy and dog, the excellent work is a fitting correlative of sorts to the obscure masterpiece critics overlooked.