by Allan Fish
(USA 1958 100m) DVD1/2
The Girl with the Golden Voice
p Walter R.Mirisch d Anthony Mann w Reginald Rose ph Ernest Haller ed Richard Heermance m Leigh Harline art Hillyard Brown
Gary Cooper (Link Jones), Lee J.Cobb (Dock Tobin), Julie London (Billie Ellis), Arthur O’Connell (Sam Beasley), Jack Lord (Coaley), John Dehner (Claude), Royal Dano (Trout), Robert Wilke (Ponch),
At the end of Anthony Mann’s profitable western partnership with Jimmy Stewart with The Man from Laramie in 1955, Mann would only make two more westerns of real note, both also starring Hollywood legends no stranger to the saddle. The first, The Tin Star, featured Henry Fonda in one of his first roles since returning to Hollywood after a spell on the stage. The second, Man of the West, was seemingly unconnected to The Tin Star in all but the director, but that isn’t entirely true. In the same year as Fonda made the Mann film, he also made the iconic Twelve Angry Men, which was written by Reginald Rose. Rose, and indeed Lee J.Cobb, would in turn collaborate with Mann on Man of the West. It would prove not only the effective farewell to the genre for Mann, but also for Gary Cooper.
Link Jones is making a journey by train to Fort Worth to try and engage a school-teacher for his burgeoning settlement back west. He’s cagy and somewhat anxious, an anxiety increased when a local sheriff seems to think he knows him from some place. He successfully fends him off, but when his train is ambushed by outlaws, though the train escapes, Jones and two passengers – saloon singer Billie Ellis and card shark Sam Beasley – are left stranded. They walk off to find the nearest settlement, come across a homestead, only to find that it’s the outlaws’ hideout. The ageing head of the band, Dock Tobin, knows Jones, and he knows him, for he was once his ‘right arm’ and fellow outlaw.
The staple of the man trying hard to shake off his past is one as old as the movie itself, and still utilised today – think of Cronenberg’s A History of Violence for one, genre classic Unforgiven for another. Yet if any summed up that notion, it’s Mann’s Man of the West. Whenever I hear that legendary cult line from The Godfather Part Three, as Michael Corleone frustratedly cries out “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”, I smile and remember Mann’s film. Coop’s Link is a man of the west, and he is a violent man, but as he says, as just because he wants to kill these outlaws, every single one of them, means he’s no better than they are. He’s angry then not just at bumping into them again, but about the result; namely his coming face to face with his baser nature.
Cooper is simply magnificent as Link, effortless as ever, belying his 56 years so that one mourns all the more in the recollection that it would soon be over for him. This is his Unforgiven, his The Shootist, his valedictory statement, and it’s a superb parting shot. He’s matched every step of the way by the fearsome Cobb, who makes Dock into one of the most memorable of all western villains, while London is quietly very effective as the girl who becomes little more than an object of sadism amongst the brutish outlaws, first forced into a semi strip in front of them all, before being brutally raped in a wagon by Dock as the ultimate affront to Link, who he sees as betrayer. And while Rose’s script is amongst the best of his career, don’t overlook the part played by Ernest Haller, who shows us a west both similar and otherwise to that with which we are accustomed. Note especially the prevalence of green in the film, the grass prairies, so rarely seen in the westerns of other directors, but not unfamiliar for Mann. Mann was painting on a new western canvas, and his baton would be picked up by Budd Boetticher and then by Sam Peckinpah, whose Ride the High Country would prove the crossroads from the world of Mann and Boetticher to the revisionist works of not only Peckinpah’s own later career, but those of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood. Mann ensured that, simply in introducing moral ambiguity, the west would never be the same again.