by Allan Fish
please note that The Naked Spur is not covered as it was previously published as part of the 1950s countdown.
(USA 1955 102m) DVD1/2
I belong where I am
p William Goetz d Anthony Mann w Philip Yordan, Frank Burt ph Charles Lang Jnr ed William Lyon m George Duning md Morris Stoloff art Cary Odell
James Stewart (Will Lockhart), Arthur Kennedy (Vic Hansbro), Cathy O’Donnell (Barbara Waggoman), Donald Crisp (Alec Waggoman), Alex Nicol (Dave Waggoman), Aline MacMahon (Kate Canady), Wallace Ford (Charley O’Leary), Jack Elam (Chris Boldt), Frank DeKova (Padre),
It would be the final collaboration between Anthony Mann and James Stewart and their first in Cinemascope. It wouldn’t be Mann’s final western, there were still a couple more to follow before turning his hand to his third genre – the historical epic – but it would perhaps be his most ambitious. It’s said he always wanted to film King Lear in a western setting. It had been done before by Joe Mankiewicz in the gangster world of House of Strangers and, in many ways, one can see where he was coming from. He’d never get his wish, but despite elements in The Furies and Man of the West this is the nearest he came.
Stewart plays Will Lockhart, a former army captain who now makes money from transporting goods in his wagon to remote outposts on the trail and who has come to find out who sold the guns to Apaches who massacred a cavalry patrol which included his brother. After delivering one such shipment of goods to Barbara Waggoman, the young store owner, he’s warned to leave, but he feels it’s a wasted journey to go back to Laramie with empty wagons. He’s told there’s salt to be had at the local flats, but when he goes to take some he meets the psychotic Dave Waggoman, Barbara’s cousin, who burns his carts and kills his mules for sport before his father Alec’s manager, Vic, can stop him. Vic has always looked up to Alec as a father at their ranch, The Barb, but Alec has always preferred to indulge his son, seeing it as Vic’s fault when Dave goes wild.
It’s a dark tale, full of vengeful hatred and seething resentment, and with assorted characters each with their crosses to bear. Dave Waggoman – played with glee by Alex Nicol in his most famous role – is another of those pampered, indulged sons gone bad that stretch back to Duel in the Sun and on to The Big Country and beyond. Vic, perfectly essayed by the ever-reliable Arthur Kennedy, is a mixture of good and bad who may ultimately transpire to be the treasonous one, but does so out of a not unreasonable bitterness over his treatment. Some have called them stereotypes, but in many ways they seem rather archetypes, a cinematic blueprint of not merely Shakespearean envy but of almost Biblical tragedy, with essences of the Prodigal Son branded on every frame.
Nicol and Kennedy are excellent, but no more so than the rest of the cast, with MacMahon the most welcome she has been since her glory days of the pre-Code, in the sort of western matriarchal role that Judith Anderson would play a few years earlier and Barbara Stanwyck would graduate to a few years later. Cathy O’Donnell is as welcome as she ever was, there’s a memorable cameo from Jack Elam, and then there’s dear old Donald Crisp, 74 and every inch the old patriarch not just of the mythic old west but of Hollywood itself, shouting “I didn’t spend a lifetime building this up to see you fritter if away.” It’s a career-topping and -defining role and a worthy screen-sharer with Stewart. Will Lockhart may not have the complexity of Howard Kemp, his bounty hunter from The Naked Spur, but it’s still one of his greatest roles, coping both with the physical demands (a memorable dragging by lasso will have taken its toll on the 46 year old star) and the emotional trauma of his vengeance mission; just think of the glint in his eyes when he is finally told who he’s been after. He eventually gives up at the point of achieving his goal, realising that there’d be a greater justice in letting the Apaches deal with Vic, and finally he can move on. He was never going to stay – he wouldn’t even stay in Laramie long once he got back, as he said, “I can’t rightly say any place is my home.” And, if we’re honest, what could be more perfect a send-off for Stewart’s Mann persona; he was never the man to settle down with a family and homestead.