July 1, 2011

Anthony Mann/Jimmy Stewart Westerns: The Man From Laramie (1955)

Jimmy Stewart battles Arthur Kennedy in The Man from Laramie.

For their final collaboration, Anthony Mann and Jimmy Stewart delivered their most ambitious picture, which combined revenge, family drama, romance, and some major viciousness. This film contains some of the most riveting scenes in the entire marathon, offering jaw-dropping moments of sadism from the villains. It's an intriguing picture that raises the stakes beyond individual success but towards the survival of the entire group of citizens.

Stewart plays Will Lockhart, a determined guy who seems a bit friendlier than some of his past characters working with Mann. However, a line is crossed when his brother is murdered by Apache raiders. They used repeating rifles to massacre a cavalry troop, sending Lockhart searching for the sellers in a nearby town. This brings him into conflict with the forces of cattle baron Alec Waggoman (Donald Crisp), especially his crazy son Dave (Alex Nicol). Lockhart's first encounter with Dave sends the hero crashing through a fire and having to watch as his wagons and mules burn. The subsequent meetings are no picnic either. When Lockhart seeks to return the favor in town, Mann uses a stunning single shot that reveals his intensity. It's one of the most effective sequences in all five movies.

One of the story's most interesting characters is Alec Waggoman, who combines determination with business sense. He's far from a nice guy but seems friendlier when compared to Dave and other lackeys. He's sort of the Stringer Bell of the Old West. Crisp brings humanity to a possibly one-note character and makes him entirely believable. Also excellent again is Arthur Kennedy, who makes us relate to Vic Hansbro, a bad guy who only wants respect from his father figure, Alec. His ultimate turn doesn't completely make sense with what we learned earlier about his character.

The love interest is Alec's niece Barbara (Cathy O'Donnell), who manages a local store once run by her father. She's attached to Hansbro but isn't entirely convinced he's the right match. When Lockhart enters the picture, Barbara sees a different kind of guy who might be a better fit. O'Donnell gives a more understated performance, which is just what this film needs to counter Nicol and Stewart's fights.

The Man From Laramie is also notable for a really silly theme song, which is way too literal to be taken seriously. Thankfully, it only appears in the opening and closing credits and isn't used during the film. On the whole, I'd rank it slightly below Winchester '73 and The Naked Spur, but it contains some impressive moments of emotional complexity. There's great acting all around, and Mann brings his best work during the key sequences.

This post concludes the marathon of westerns directed by Anthony Mann and starring Jimmy Stewart. I enjoyed watching them in a short period of time last year, and it was one of my inspirations to start the blog. I hope to check out some of Mann's other work in the future.

Other Mann/Stewart Westerns

Winchester '73
Bend of the River
The Naked Spur
The Far Country

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