Man of the West (1958)

ANTHONY MANN

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1958. , . Screenplay by , based on the novel by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by . 

is on a train headed for Fort Worth with a bag of money on his person, a collection of funds from his town who appointed him envoy to find a schoolteacher to bring back with him to their community. On the train he meets a shady con man () who tries to get his saloon gal friend () considered for the job, but before anything can be done their train is held up by robbers and the three of them are left for dead in the desert.

Walking a trail in search of civilization, they come upon a homestead that turns out to be from Cooper’s past, inhabited by his ornery uncle () who raised him to be a thief and murderer before he escaped to start life over as a decent man in a new place. Cobb lives there with the band of thieves who attacked their train, who are Cooper’s cousins, and our hero is now he is forced to confront his past while getting himself, O’Connell and London out of a precarious situation when Cobb announces that he wants, against the objections of his other subordinates, to use his nephew to head up a planned looting in a nearby village.

Sharp and edgy, this film sees director Anthony Mann putting the criminal underworld elements of noir into a full-blown western that subverts the usual aims of the genre; while most westerns seek to legitimize white American presence in a colonized environment, the people in this film are a cancer upon their land and not its rightful owners. Cooper, as always combining dimwitted speech with bright, intelligent eyes for a bewitching effect, underplays his character’s tension and holds you in his tractor beam throughout, which you should focus on instead of noticing how ridiculous it is to think that Cobb, who is ten years his junior, could ever in a million years be his uncle (even when taking into account his overcooked Method acting and bad wig and makeup).

London, who was much better known as a singer despite more than her fair share of film roles, gives fine support as the noble woman whom the world takes for granted, never overripe in her portrayal of the bad woman with the heart of gold.

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