director Anthony Mann
Between 1950 (Winchester ’73) and 1955 (The Man from Laramie), director Anthony Mann and star Jimmy Stewart teamed up together for five Westerns. Between 2003 and just now (late 2015), I’ve finally managed to getting around to completing the cycle. I caught The Naked Spur (1953) two years ago, and have chugged through Bend of the River (1952) and The Far Country (1954) in the last few months. Considering the many tropes and cycles and themes and styles of films I slog through, it’s kind of amazing to complete anything.
Shot in CinemaScope and Technicolor, The Man from Laramie seems to be the “big one” of the series, a stab at something more epic-ish, if not fully epic. Their first four films together are much more concentrated action Westerns, themes and big ideas, sure, but each but not the Technicolor, wide-screen luxury of Laramie, and Laramie is even about 15 minutes more epic.
In this one, Stewart rolls into Coronado with a couple wagon-loads of supplies. The town has been cut off in isolation by the size of some of its holdings and by pesky Apache territory in one direction. What Stewart finds is a ruthlessly-run place, owned by a harsh but ailing land baron, Alec Waggoman (Donald Crisp), whose son Dave (Alex Nicol) rides psychotically half-cocked at all times, while his testy right hand man Vic (Arthur Kennedy) tries to keep him at bay. Dave burns Stewart’s wagons and shoots his mules when he thinks Stewart is stealing their salt. This leads to a fist fight and a rather convoluted situation that makes for the rest of the story.
Mann is once again in his element, shooting on location, this time in Arizona and New Mexico. And the wide-screen of CinemaScope offers new frames for capturing the rugged landscape and the cowboy hero. But the longer beats of the pacing, the bigger scope of the family drama wind up bogging the thing down more than expanding it. I’d say it’s a good film, but the weakest of the five.
I guess if I’d seen the films all in quicker succession I’d have a better chance at teasing out a sense of consistency in the worlds. Of the three films I’ve seen this year, Bend of the River (1952, The Far Country (1954), and now The Man from Laramie, in each one Stewart plays a man from the outside come to the Wild West outpost. In each one, be it Oregon, Alaska, or New Mexico, he finds a lack of law and order, is robbed of his rightful goods, and has to decide to take a stand with the underdogs against the rich, powerful villains and then ultimately decide to either settle down or move along.
Both Mann and Stewart made other Westerns with other collaborators, so I don’t know if it’s worth just looking at these five films in isolation. But shot in that tight 5 year period, it’s a worthwhile cycle for a fan of the classic American Western.