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The Iron Mistress Reviews

This was Alan Ladd's first film for Warner Bros. after leaving Paramount, where he had been one of that studio's great stars for more than a decade, and Warner Bros. mounted a big production for their new star. He plays the flamboyant frontiersman and adventurer Jim Bowie--gambler, real estate entrepreneur, knife-wielding duelist, and lover of beautiful southern belles. Ladd arrives in New Orleans to tend to his bayou family's lumber mill. Voskovec (as the famed naturalist and painter James Audubon) befriends Ladd and introduces him to high society, including the beauteous but totally self-centered Mayo. Ladd, the naive country boy, falls hard for Mayo but must contend with a number of beaus courting her--Calleia, a ruthless politician; Young, a rich and sinister duelist; and playboy Kjellin. In no time at all Ladd has sold his family's mill, gambled with the shrewdest cardsharps of New Orleans to win more money, and bought a sprawling plantation, all to win the mercenary heart of Mayo. His newly acquired friend Dick, Mayo's brother, is killed in a duel, and still Ladd hasn't won Mayo's hand. He needs more money, so he teams up with bayou killer Caruso to enter a horse in the Duncan Cup race, beating Calleia's prize horse and incurring Calleia's wrath ever after. With his racetrack winnings, Ladd goes to Mayo to ask her to marry him, but discovers that she's married Kjellin, who threatens Ladd. Ladd goes to a blacksmith and a double-edged knife is forged allegedly from a meteorite, which, the smith says, "has a bit of heaven in it or a bit of hell." Calleia then tries to kill Ladd, but Ladd uses the famed knife to dispatch his mortal enemy. Mayo next comes to Ladd, begging him to save her errant husband from the clutches of gambler Caruso, promising to leave Kjellin if Ladd rescues him. Without hesitation, Ladd attacks Caruso and is severely wounded in a wild knife fight, nursed back to health by Kirk, who is the daughter of the vice-governor of Texas and who finds Ladd bleeding to death alongside a road. Later, on board a riverboat, Ladd meets Mayo and Kjellin and also Caruso. In a series of battles, Kjellin and Caruso are killed and Mayo tries to worm her way into Ladd's arms. He rejects her now, realizing that although she is a great beauty, she's shallow and worthless. He rides off toward Texas to marry Kirk. THE IRON MISTRESS is jammed with action, much of it exceedingly violent and bloody, and the Ladd-Mayo relationship is perplexing. Ladd is his usual strong, resilient self, but Mayo overacts flagrantly. There is little of the real Jim Bowie here. Born in 1799, Bowie was bred in Georgia and was a shady character most of his life. He gambled, smuggled slaves, looted ships with pirate Jean Laffite, and killed many a man in gun and knife duels. Moreover, he operated a land swindle with his brother, but did ship lumber to New Orleans for a brief period of his life. All of these dark deeds were redeemed by the courageous Bowie when he died with 186 other heroes at the Alamo in 1836. The action in THE IRON MISTRESS is well handled by director Douglas, who specialized in robust sagas. Seitz's color photography is lavish and impressive. Douglas would go on to direct Ladd in THE BIG LAND; SANTIAGO; and CONNELL STORY. Although married to Michael O'Shea at the time, Mayo later admitted that she fell in love with Ladd during the production. The two-fisted Ladd insisted upon doing his own stunts as usual. While performing some of Douglas' typically ferocious action scenes, Ladd injured his knee and, while missing a thrown punch, slammed his right fist onto a concrete floor and broke a bone, requiring a cast which was cleverly camouflaged shortly before the completion of the film.