A self-minded adventurer locks horns with a crooked lawman while driving cattle to Dawson.A self-minded adventurer locks horns with a crooked lawman while driving cattle to Dawson.A self-minded adventurer locks horns with a crooked lawman while driving cattle to Dawson.
Anthony Mann and Jimmy Stewart made a few movies together, and one is a cool black and white affair, but this is one of his searing Technicolor productions. It almost has a comic flair even as the world is cut and splintered in the first twenty minutes until the real story begins--cattle driving in Alaska. Stewart of course plays a congenial sort, but his character Jeff Webster has a history of killing a couple men and having a little vengeance in his heart, and when he is coerced into this new job you know it isn't going to go smoothly.
This is an odd story told with an odd tilt to it, and that's a good thing overall. And it's set in Alaska (near the Yukon), which gives it more of a frontier/prospecting feel than a standard Western. In addition to Walter Brennan who is his usual quirky best, the leading woman is Ruth Roman, who had a career something short of stardom, and she plays a tough but elegant frontier woman well. And there is a perky younger women (a French actress named Corinne Calvet), a kind of tomboy who has the hots for Webster. It doesn't quite work, but it's fun, and it's part of the series of conflicts all operating at the same time.
There are some small flaws you have to overlook, like the day for night that is more day than night (which is only emphasized by some brilliant night filming at the end of the movie, night for night done to perfection). But there is a bigger tension that keeps things really interesting, too. Two extremes of women after one singular guy--that's enough for any movie. And there is the sheriff and judge and power-monger in town who is ruthless with a laugh and cackle, and he makes a great villain.
I'm not interested in movies for their scenery, but it's worth noticing the amazing mountain country that is the setting here. There are also the standard moments that don't really add to the plot, but to the mood--some barroom singing, some riding through the scenery. But what really makes the movie is Stewart's role as an individualist, a man who is looking after himself first and last. Brennan acts as his conscience, reminding him to be a good guy, and Stewart, to his credit, listens.
Heroics come slowly in a Mann Western. You suspect Webster is a good person deep down, but his goodness has a slow coming out. And in a way, even by the end, the ambiguity is there--it's the good townspeople who rise up and get their justice.
A good movie, a very good Western.
- Aug 31, 2011