THE NAKED SPUR (USA, 1953) ****
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); Release Date: 30 January 1953 (USA), 16 April 1953 (UK); Filming Dates: May 1952 – 30 June 1952; Running Time: 91m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: Anthony Mann; Writer: Sam Rolfe, Harold Jack Bloom; Producer: William H. Wright; Director of Photography: William C. Mellor; Music Composer: Bronislau Kaper; Film Editor: George White; Art Director: Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons; Set Decorator: Edwin B. Willis; Make-up: William Tuttle.
Cast: James Stewart (Howard Kemp), Janet Leigh (Lina Patch), Robert Ryan (Ben Vandergroat), Ralph Meeker (Roy Anderson), Millard Mitchell (Jesse Tate).
Synopsis: A bounty hunter trying to bring a murderer to justice is forced to accept the help of two less-than-trustworthy strangers.
Comment: This excellent and tense Western is more a psychological drama. Stewart is a haunted bounty hunter who looks to bring in outlaw Ryan with the unwanted help of prospector Mitchell and dishonourably discharged cavalryman Meeker. Leigh is Ryan’s companion – the misfit daughter of a dead outlaw. Along the long journey through beautiful Colorado locations, Ryan begins to play his captors off against each other, whilst Stewart slowly falls for Leigh. Mann handles the material expertly and the performances are excellent – notably Stewart as the self-tortured hero and Ryan as the manipulative villain. Great score by Kaper heightens the tension and sumptuous photography from Mellor.
THE FAR COUNTRY (USA, 1954) ***½
Distributor: Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); Production Company: Universal International Pictures (UI); Release Date: 22 July 1954 (UK), 12 February 1955 (USA); Filming Dates: 19 August–mid October 1953; Running Time: 97m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Recording); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1/2.00:1; BBFC Cert: U.
Director: Anthony Mann; Writer: Borden Chase; Producer: Aaron Rosenberg; Director of Photography: William H. Daniels; Music Composer: Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, Frank Skinner, Herman Stein (all uncredited); Music Supervisor: Joseph Gershenson; Film Editor: Russell F. Schoengarth; Art Director: Alexander Golitzen, Bernard Herzbrun; Set Decorator: Oliver Emert, Russell A. Gausman; Costumes: Jay A. Morley Jr.; Make-up: Bud Westmore; Sound: Leslie I. Carey, Robert Pritchard.
Cast: James Stewart (Jeff Webster), Ruth Roman (Ronda Castle), Corinne Calvet (Renee Vallon), Walter Brennan (Ben Tatum), John McIntire (Gannon), Jay C. Flippen (Rube), Harry Morgan (Ketchum), Steve Brodie (Ives), Connie Gilchrist (Hominy), Robert J. Wilke (Madden), Chubby Johnson (Dusty), Royal Dano (Luke), Jack Elam (Frank Newberry), Kathleen Freeman (Grits), Connie Van (Molasses).
Synopsis: A self-minded adventurer locks horns with a crooked lawman while on a cattle drive.
Comment: Third Western collaboration between Stewart and Mann, again scripted by Chase, is unusual in that the setting is the gold prospecting mountains of Alaska (although filmed in Canada). The subtext of Stewart’s character’s struggle with the pull of his desire to fulfil his own personal vision against that of the needs of those who surround him is played out against a tonally shifting script. At times the move from light humour to violent action feels jarring, but this is seemingly part of Mann’s overall message that life is never what you plan it to be. The wonderful locations provide a stunning backdrop and the production is handsomely mounted conjuring up an authentic view of frontier life. The story ratchets up the tension in its final act, which resorts to the familiar showdown and redemption of the hero.
THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (USA, 1955) ***½
Distributor: Columbia Pictures; Production Company: Columbia Pictures Corporation / William Goetz Productions; Release Date: 13 July 1955 (USA), August 1955 (UK); Filming Dates: 29 September–26 November 1954; Running Time: 104m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: 4-Track Stereo (RCA Sound Recording); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: CinemaScope; Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1; BBFC Cert: U.
Director: Anthony Mann; Writer: Philip Yordan, Frank Burt (based on the novel by Thomas T. Flynn); Producer: William Goetz; Director of Photography: Charles Lang; Music Composer: George Duning; Film Editor: William A. Lyon; Art Director: Cary Odell; Make-up: Clay Campbell; Sound: George Cooper.
Cast: James Stewart (Will Lockhart), Arthur Kennedy (Vic Hansbro), Donald Crisp (Alec Waggoman), Cathy O’Donnell (Barbara Waggoman), Alex Nicol (Dave Waggoman), Aline MacMahon (Kate Canaday), Wallace Ford (Charley O’Leary), Jack Elam (Chris Boldt), John War Eagle (Frank Darrah), James Millican (Tom Quigby), Gregg Barton (Fritz), Boyd Stockman (Spud Oxton), Frank DeKova (Padre).
Synopsis: A stranger defies the local cattle baron and his sadistic son by working for one of his oldest rivals.
Comment: Fifth and final Western collaboration between director Mann and start Stewart. It is another psychological tale with Stewart seeking revenge on the gun-runners who traded rifles to the Apaches who killed his brother. Stewart gets involved in a range war between Crisp and MacMahon in the process. Lively actions scenes and strong dramatic moments occasionally bring overwrought performances from less experienced members of the cast, but Stewart and Kennedy deliver the goods. Believed to be the first Western shot in cinemascope and Lang’s photography captures the New Mexican vistas admirably.
Notes: The theme song was written by Lester Lee and Ned Washington and was recorded in the United States by Al Martino and in the United Kingdom by Jimmy Young.
BEND OF THE RIVER (USA, 1952) ****
Distributor: Universal Pictures; Production Company: Universal International Pictures (UI); Release Date: 23 January 1952 (USA), 13 March 1952 (UK); Filming Dates: 26 July–13 September 1951; Running Time: 91m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Recording); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: Anthony Mann; Writer: Borden Chase (based on the novel “Bend of the Snake” by William Gulick); Producer: Aaron Rosenberg; Associate Producer: Frank Cleaver; Director of Photography: Irving Glassberg; Music Composer: Hans J. Salter; Film Editor: Russell F. Schoengarth; Casting Director: Phil Benjamin (uncredited); Art Director: Bernard Herzbrun, Nathan Juran; Set Decorator: Oliver Emert, Russell A. Gausman; Costumes: Rosemary Odell; Make-up: Bud Westmore; Sound: Leslie I. Carey, Joe Lapis.
Cast: James Stewart (Glyn McLyntock), Arthur Kennedy (Emerson Cole), Julie Adams (Laura Baile), Rock Hudson (Trey Wilson), Jay C. Flippen (Jeremy Baile), Lori Nelson (Marjie Baile), Chubby Johnson (Cap’n Mello), Stepin Fetchit (Adam), Harry Morgan (Shorty), Howard Petrie (Tom Hendricks), Frances Bavier (Mrs. Prentiss), Jack Lambert (Red), Royal Dano (Long Tom), Frank Chase (Wasco), Cliff Lyons (Willie), Frank Ferguson (Tom Grundy).
Synopsis: When a town boss confiscates homesteader’s supplies after gold is discovered nearby, a tough cowboy risks his life to try and get it to them.
Comment: James Stewart and director Anthony Mann team up for the second of five westerns they made together. The relatively simple tale is built around the complex characters of two former gunfighters (Stewart and Kennedy) attempting to distance themselves from their past as they fall in with a group of settlers led by Flippen. Adams plays Flippen’s daughter who is initially attracted to the more volatile Kennedy. Mann directs with a strong feel for the material and the characters and gets the best from his actors. The unforgiving landscapes and the glorious scenery are well captured by Glassberg’s cinematography. The story has a strong conclusion as Stewart and Kennedy go up against each other, demonstrating the different paths they have chosen. An early role for Hudson as a charming gambler.
Notes: Original UK title: WHERE THE RIVER BENDS.