director Anthony Mann
1896, the Alaskan Gold Rush, the “far country”, the Westernmost range of the Western. This is the setting for Anthony Mann’s 1954 Western, The Far Country, his fourth of five Westerns starring Jimmy Stewart.
Aspects of the film echo of Bend of the River (1952), Mann and Stewart’s 2nd Western together. In Bend of the River, Stewart played a driver who helped a family drive to their homestead in Western Oregon, navigating the ruthless markets and opportunists who try to rip them off when gold is discovered nearby. The Far Country begins in another Pacific Northwest frontier town, this time Seattle, and Stewart’s character, Jeff Webster, isn’t aiding a family unit, but shepherding his own team of cattle to Alaska for a big score. And while he manages to dodge the shysters and thieves in Seattle, he runs afoul of the even more ruthless kingpin in Skagway, Judge Gannon (John McIntire). The judge, having all authority, just takes his cattle without any chance of recompense.
As Jeff, Stewart isn’t as kind-hearted as his character in Bend of the River. He’s looking out for #1, and to some extent, his #2, Ben Tatum (the always enjoyable Walter Brennan). When he manages to free himself (and his cows) to hit the far country, he finds the same villains of Skagway have invaded Dawson City. But his moral compass only looks to his own profit and he winds up selling to the villains, just to make a buck.
It’s an interesting contrast, these two characters. Under the sway of a pretty young thing, Renee (Corinne Calvet), and through further ruthlessness by the local villains, Jeff comes around to learning to protect the town and the budding American society laying its seeds in the icy, isolated soil. He’s forced to do right, to protect and support the good people from the bad, rather than disinterestedly looking only out for himself. Some vague critique of isolationism or something?
Shot in parts in Canada, like other Anthony Mann Westerns, the natural landscapes are used to significant effect. The Far Country is an interesting and well-made picture.