Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
USA, 1962. Paramount Pictures, John Ford Productions. Screenplay by James Warner, Willis Goldbeck, based on the story by Dorothy M. Johnson. Cinematography by William H. Clothier. Produced by Willis Goldbeck. Music by Cyril J. Mockridge. Production Design by Eddie Imazu, Hal Pereira. Costume Design by Edith Head. Film Editing by Otho Lovering. Academy Awards 1962.
An aged James Stewart shows up in a dusty western town to attend the funeral of a man who was supposedly a good friend of his. When the town’s newspaper man demands that he tell them all who this friend was, Stewart spins a tale of his younger years, when he first arrived to bring law and order to their little hamlet. The kicker in the flashback, however, is that his law comes from books, while his buddy John Wayne believes that it can only come at the point of a gun. Considering that the town is being harassed constantly by the evil, sadistic Lee Marvin, it’s no wonder that Wayne believes only in force to set things right, but Stewart sticks to his guns (no pun intended) and insists that there must be a legal way to make the problem disappear. This seminal western, one of the most discussed and revered of John Ford’s career, is a not-so-subtle allegory of American society, examining the nation’s history of violence, a penchant to see pacifist, educated viewpoints as weak, and the overall mythology of Westerns that has given the image of both the American past and present a very curious, and dishonest, perspective. This was the last notable film in Ford’s career, a self-reflexive western in which he takes on his own myth-making from the past, including making Wayne a much more complexly moral character than he usually was before (it’s much like The Searchers in this regard). Vera Miles is the only false note, a terrific actress who is here miscast as an illiterate girl who blossoms under Stewart’s regard, while the costumes and sets are terrific.