Badass bounty hunter Henry Fonda (same year as 12 Angry Men) rolls into town and meets the unqualified local sheriff Anthony Perkins (three years pre-Psycho) who wants to do the right thing and arrest local bad guy Neville Brand (lead of Riot in Cell Block 11) even though it’ll probably get him killed. Meanwhile, Fonda is renting a room from a woman (Betsy Palmer, the killer in Friday the 13th) who has been exiled from town because of her half-breed son (Michel Ray, who would become an Olympic skiier and a beer billionaire). And Lee Van Cleef and his brother are going around murdering people. Fonda, an ex-lawman, says repeatedly that he’s done being a lawman, nuh-uh, never again, so we just know he’ll become acting sheriff and take care of things.

The writers lost the oscar to Designing Woman, but this was a very good Mann western to file with all the others.

Henry Fonda, Mrs. Voorhees and the young owner of Heineken:

Thanks to a well-placed mirror, we can see the bar fight and Perkins’ reaction:

A damned good western. I’ve now watched six Anthony Mann films from the 1950’s, and all six have been terrific. Further exploration is needed. Here we’ve got guilty ex-criminal James Stewart leading a group of settlers through increasingly hostile territory. Stewart meets kindred spirit Cole (Rancho Notorious star Arthur Kennedy) and they deal with arrow-shooting natives early on… rest of the hostility comes from white men in a gold rush who’d like to murder the settlers and/or steal their supplies, led by a mutinous Cole.

The group stops in Portland (which looks different these days) to buy supplies, drops off the arrow-wounded Laurie (Julie Adams) to recover. She seemed fond of Cole earlier, and when Stewart returns to Portland months later to find out why their supplies haven’t arrived, she’s shacking up with gambler Rock Hudson. Stewart causes trouble and they have to make a quick escape on a steamboat run by Chubby Johnson and Stepin Fetchit. Eventually Stewart has proven himself again and again, earning the trust of wagon train leader Jay Flippen and the love of his daughter Laurie (Rock barely seems to notice she’s gone, making eyes at her younger sister).

Another tough, superb movie from Anthony Mann, who might be my favorite Mann this year (based on early reviews of Blackhat). We saw some plot threads coming a mile away: the baddie James Stewart has tracked for years is his brother, who killed their father over some greedy business. We’re told during a shooting competition overseen by Wyatt Earp himself (Will Geer, train conductor in The Tall Target) that they’ve got the same training. That day in Dodge, Jimmy wins himself the rare and valuable rifle of the film’s title, and his brother Dutch Henry (Stephen McNally of Criss Cross) immediately steals it and rides off.

America in the 1870’s was populated mainly by horrible drunk murderous gamblers, and we meet a procession of them. Dutch loses the rifle to a trader (John McIntire, sheriff of Psycho) in a card game, who is later (deservedly) murdered for it by Indian chief Rock Hudson – yes! Jimmy teams up with Millard Mitchell (ol’ prospector of The Naked Spur), later kills Chief Rock during an Indian battle vs. the cavalry led by Jay Flippen (who played an Indian himself in Run of the Arrow). The rifle is handed off to the shitty Steve (Charles Drake of All That Heaven Allows) to protect his fiancee Shelley Winters (not recognizable from The Tenant). Steve lasts all of one more scene, seeking refuge at the same house where criminal Waco Johnny (Dan Duryea, the Scarlet Street pimp) decides to have a police shootout with his men. Waco kills Steve, takes the rifle and the girl to his planned meeting with Dutch Henry (Jimmy Stewart’s evil brother, remember?). Jockeying to outdo each other in the bad guy department, Waco and Dutch hit a bank, followed closely by Jimmy Stewart, who kills Waco then chases Dutch into the mountains, finally killing him too, earning himself back the rifle and probably the girl.

I guess Tony Curtis played one of Dutch’s men, not that we noticed. Wikipedia claims it was supposed to be a Fritz Lang project with a different story, Stewart more obsessed with the rifle.

I watched this and The Naked Spur building up to Emory’s 35mm screening of Mann’s T-Men, which I then missed. Oh well. These were excellent, so I’ll have to catch up with T-Men and the others eventually.

A perhaps less-wooden-than-usual Gary Cooper gets a train ticket, is asked his name and destination by two different people and gives them different answers. So we know something is up (turns out he’s a still-wanted ex-badman). But Gary has reformed, is now the inordinately earnest Gary we all know and love, so he’s not lying to talky card-shark Arthur O’Connell when he says he’s headed to Fort Worth with cash raised by an entire town to hire a schoolteacher. Arthur introduces him to saloon singer Julie London, says she’d make a fine teacher, but then the train is robbed, Gary’s money is stolen, and Gary, Julie and Arthur find themselves on foot.

Julie and Arthur in happier times:

Fortunately, this all took place a short walk away from Gary’s old hideout, where his half-crazy uncle Lee Cobb (baddie of Thieves’ Highway) still reigns over a crude bunch of dangerous dimwits, including Gary’s real asshole cousin Jack Lord. Gary is treated as a prisoner/possible-accomplice, Julie as a sex slave, and Arthur is finally just shot (so is Jack Lord).

Cooper, trapped by Lord (left) and Dano:

Gary talks his way into helping with a bank heist, but mute Royal Dano (the Kid’s henchman in Johnny Guitar, later Gramps in House II) comes along and gets himself killed – so now Gary’s got to pick off the rest of the gang as they come for him (that’d be John Dehner, who played Pat Garrett to Paul Newman’s Kid the same year, and Robert Wilke, the foreman in Days of Heaven) before facing off against his uncle Cobb, who I’m surprised was able to leave the house and ride into town.

Cooper vs. Cobb:

Gary’s got his money back, and rides off with Julie London. But besides the money and the schoolteacher plan, Gary was also not lying about having a wife and kids back home. So they can’t be together, but Julie says she’s happy with the unrequited thing, and they get their unique doomed-romance version of the ride-into-sunset.

J. Rosenbaum:

Man of the West is shot in CinemaScope, yet it’s initially hampered by the shallow dramatic space associated with television. This effect is made worse by the casting, which pairs the stagiest of stage actors (Cobb) with the most cinematic of movie actors (Cooper). But Mann is canny enough to turn these limitations to his advantage whenever he can, offering sly notations about Link’s physical discomfort on the train and using a long, tense scene inside the farmhouse to create claustrophobia before sending the characters outdoors for virtually the remainder of the picture. Once again, the hero is a dialectical contradiction, both regressing toward an unbearable past and making an anguished effort to break free from it — the struggle ultimately engendering hatred, violence, pain, and humiliation, and revealing boundless evil.

Royal Dano vs. the ghost town:

Great, tense western thriller with just a few (white) characters and an unusual philosophical ending. “He’s not dead if you take him back. He’ll never be dead for you.” Shot by William Mellor (Giant) in academy-ratio color. I noticed some cool secret-revealing camera moves – from a quick one during the opening titles to a slow traveling shot later on showing a guy hiding behind a rock. Overall great performances except that I wished Jesse Tate had been played by Rio Bravo‘s Walter Brennan – Millard’s voice wasn’t quite right.

Jimmy:

Jimmy Stewart (the year before Rear Window) comes at friendly ol’ prospector Jesse (Millard Mitchell of Thieves’ Highway and Winchester ’73), says he’s looking for lawman-slayer Robert Ryan. Jesse hasn’t seen Ryan since Clash By Night, so offers his assistance. In wanders Kiss Me Deadly star Ralph Meeker as a disgraced ex-soldier, and between them, the men take down Robert Ryan over the protest of his gal Janet Leigh (four years after Holiday Affair).

Everyone but Jimmy:

But Ryan pretty easily turns the men against each other by revealing that he’s got quite a bounty on his head, and Stewart is after him for the money, not as a lawman. This works better than Janet Leigh’s appeals that poor Ryan is innocent – and if we’d ever considered believing her, Ryan loses all sympathy when he wears down the men to the point that he’s allowed to escape, then he shoots ol’ Jesse. Meeker goes down next, but takes Ryan with him, and Stewart recovers the body. But apparently Janet Leigh can make a man fall in love with her pretty much instantly, so…

B. Lucas:

Howard drags Ben’s body to his horse in a final paroxysm of fury, but then turns to Lina and sees in her face the light of unconditional love and a new beginning, and at last relents. The tears and cracking voice of Stewart in close shot are a high moment of this great actor’s career, perfectly complemented by the softer yet no less vibrant playing of Leigh. . . As the camera moves up into the sky, then follows a dissolve to come back to the two characters moving through dead trees within an open expanse, one sees in these images that there is a spiritual rhythm within life, and that “choosing a way to live” can happen even in the roughest passage.

Another look at the face that turned Jimmy’s life around:

Bonus: lots of Indian-slaying and horse-injuring action when Meeker declares war on a passing tribe, and some Jimmy Stewart backstory, narrated to Leigh while he’s injured and raving. Jimmy uses his spur to help climb a cliff at the end (then throws it in Robert Ryan’s face), which I guess is where the weird title came from.

I don’t know much about Anthony Mann, but this and The Furies both kicked some ass. Thought it’d be a Western, since I never look up even the most basic information about movies I’m about to watch, but it’s a high-quality period piece set on a train (I love movies set on trains) about a frustrated New York cop (technically ex-cop; he turns in his badge at the start of the film) trying to uncover an assassination plot on Abraham Lincoln on his way through Baltimore to inauguration on the eve of civil war.

Powell:

Dick Powell (star of Susan Slept Here, Christmas In July) is “John Kennedy” (unwittingly aiding future nerds with their Lincoln/JFK parallel theories), the ex-cop, whose intended contact on the train is murdered off-screen. So Powell hooks up with sideburned Colonel Jeffers (Adolphe Menjou, noted commie-hater who named names in 1947) to solve the mystery of his dead friend and his hunch about an assassination attempt. I lost track of the colonel for a while though, soon found out that it’s unwise to track actors in this movie by their sideburns, kinda like trying to remember someone in a 1930’s movie as the guy with the hat.

The Colonel:

Kennedy isn’t the best cop, allows an interloper (Leif Erickson) to make off with his coat and gun. This guy also has Kennedy’s ticket, and grinningly claims to be Kennedy when the ticket-taker comes around. At the next stop, Kennedy fights the man for his identity, and the colonel, seeing a struggle, shoots at them, happening to kill the faker. This was really my only problem with the movie, dude just firing wildly in the darkness when he didn’t seem to have a clear shot or any understanding of the situation, irresponsible – until it’s revealed that the colonel is the main anti-Lincoln conspirator and that this was a clue to his identity. Because the colonel wouldn’t mind shooting Erickson, who could identify him, or Kennedy, who aims to stop him.

Jenny:

Kennedy’s main suspect is outspoken pro-slavery Georgian and sniper-rifle bearer Lance (Fiend Without a Face lead Marshall Thompson), travelling with his loyal sister Jenny (Paula Raymond of Crisis) and their slave maid Rachel (Ruby Dee! of Do The Right Thing!). But Kennedy suspects the colonel enough to leave his pistol loaded with powder but no bullet, so when the colonel shoots Kennedy while he naps, he is unharmed – the second harmless pistol head-shot I’ve seen in a movie this month. But at a stop in Philly Kennedy finds himself on the run instead of boldly turning in his evidence, an arrest warrant out for his “impersonating an officer.”

Ruby:

Back on board, Ruby Dee tells him that Lance has been lying about his intentions. Jenny the sister helps, then interferes, then helps. The colonel gets off in Baltimore but sends word to Lance that the future president is on the train. Kennedy awakes, fight ensues, Lance is knocked off the train, and Kennedy gets covertly thanked by the president’s people, as Lincoln looks out at the under-construction Capitol building. A fine-looking and tightly-plotted movie.

Walter Huston (John’s father, in his final role) is a slightly less grotesquely comic version of Egbert in Ruggles of Red Gap, a rich, eccentric cowboy. His extremely strong-willed but beloved daughter Barbara Stanwyck (soon before Clash By Night) argues with him over practically everything, finally scheming to swindle him out of his land as revenge for an argument taken too far. She has a brother (John Bromfield) who is introduced at the beginning but practically disappears from the movie, since he’s a decent, unassuming fellow and Stanwyck and Huston are commanding our attention at all times.

Complicated, exquisitely shot and acted movie, obviously based on a novel (I can’t explain – it just smells novelistic). Stanwyck and Huston have a near-incestual rivalry. She loves Juan (Gilbert Roland, who played bandit The Cisco Kid in six movies) who lives illegally on Huston’s land, and Huston marries gold digger Flo (Judith Anderson, sinister housekeeper in Rebecca). But after Stanwyck stabs her new stepmother in the face with scissors (!), Huston has Juan killed. Katy and I lost track of exactly how Stanwyck then claimed possession of her father’s land. She cozied up to rich gambler Rip (Wendell Corey, Janet Leigh’s dull boyfriend in Holiday Affair) then bought up her father’s outstanding I.O.U.s around the country and used those as payment when he sold off his animals, but then how did that prevent the bank from repossessing the land?

This is the first movie I’ve seen by Mann, who made three other movies in 1950, at least two of them considered great classics. That’s just how it used to work.

R. Wood for Criterion:

All of Mann’s westerns—unlike, for example, John Ford’s—suggest deep psychological disturbance, but those currents never again manifest themselves as blatantly and explicitly as they do in The Furies. Mann’s westerns … show little interest in history or in mythology; they are grounded in a fallen world of existential struggle in which the villains often become the heroes’ dark shadows. Typically, when he shoots down his enemy, the Mann hero experiences not triumph but exhaustion, almost prostration, as if he had forfeited a part of himself, his manhood.