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I’d hope that most experienced cinephiles would at least be familiar with Anthony Mann’s brilliant films noir like T-Men, Raw Deal and He Walked By Night, but I’m more interested in hearing some opinions on his Westerns, in particular the five he did with Jimmy Stewart.
These films (Winchester ’73, Bend of the River, The Naked Spur, The Man From Laramie, The Far Country) range from good (The Naked Spur) to absolutely brilliant (Bend of the River, The Far Country) and are all marked by the complex moralities of the protagonists and the brooding noir-informed fatalism that adds to the atmosphere.
Look at Jimmy Stewart’s character Jeff Webster in The Far Country, the ultimate anti-hero determined not to put himself or his best friend Ben Tatum (Walter Brennan) in danger. It’s Rick Blaine taken to the nth degree, and is especially poignant for what is required in order for him to have an epiphany.
So what do you think about Mann’s westerns? Do you prefer them to the more classical works of Ford and Hawks? Are they incomparable?
EDIT: Also, a bunch of his films are playing on Tuesday on TCM.
Interesting that you rank Bend of the River and The Far Country higher than Naked Spur, which is often considered Mann’s masterpiece. In my opinion, the Stewart Westerns, along with Man of the West , equally accomplished as the Western of Ford and Hawks.
These are the type of films that have a long life span. TV staples. Great entertainment, great movies.
Love me some Anthony Mann westerns.
These are the movies that got me into Westerns, cut out all the extra fat from the genre, made em lean, mean, and wickedly condensed. Violent and neurotic too!
Matt, I don’t know what it is but I consider Bend of the River to be his best. The Far Country is not far behind but that might have something to do with how much I love Walter Brennan in anything.
I think that Mann’s westerns are the westerns closest to being accessible by the average film fan. If I were to introduce someone who wasn’t a fan already of the western genre I think I’d start with Mann, maybe Winchester ’73 in particular, because his films are a little more universally applicable than the average western.
I have seen most of his westerns and the one I loved the most is Naked Spur. In all the westerns you mentioned, Jimmy Stewart is always a neurotic character which becomes involved in whatever task he is doing in this intense obsessive compulsive way that drives the movie. Naked Spur is the one where Jimmy Stewart comes closest to self-destruction and where his fight is the most anguished: he is battling nature, men, women, and himself. In the end, love and his moral imperative prevail in one of the most amazing scenes ever filmed. I have never seen salvation and redemption delivered in such a raw state.
Along with Man of the West, I rank his westerns as high as John Ford ones even if they are hard to compare. Ford is interested in the conflict between the individual and the collective: should men sacrifice for a perceived greater good or should the individual will prevail. Anthony Mann is interested in the moral fight that lies within oneself.
Mann is more realistic and cynical than Ford; Mann dispenses with the whole simplistic good guys and bad guys paradigm. Everyone is corrupt in The Far Country — they have to be to survive the frontier.
I like Winchester ‘73 the best. I’ve never exactly warmed to Man of the West. Cooper is no substitute for Stewart.
Cooper was “almost” too old when he was cast in Man of the West. He looks about the same age as the outlaw who supposedly raised him. But he played the stalwart, stoic, innocent boy-man so well that I almost don’t notice when I watch the film. And anyway, it’s too pragmatic a film to be a romance — whatever spark occurs between him and the leading lady is purely circumstantial and adrenalin-based, and dies away when they get out of trouble.
I’m a huge fan of the Anthony Mann westerns, and while I also love the work of John Ford, I find I far prefer Mann’s westerns to most of Ford’s (with one exception).
Mann’s work was interested in the psychology of the people who populated the West, and by extension, the people who populated America. Stewart was the perfect actor to work with in this regard; he was always adept at highlighting a character’s moral and ethical battles, going as far as possible without creating an out and out unlikable character. In The Naked Spur, when he’s dragging Robert Ryan’s corpse to his horse, he comes as close as he ever did to being repellent. The reason why The Naked Spur is regarded most highly is because of Mann and Stewart pushing the character that far, to the point of violating every single moral precept he should have for his own obsessions. I also love The Man from Laramie for this reason; it’s about a man who is so angry and damaged that he has to battle his own trauma as much as any ostensible villains.
The only Ford western, to my mind, that approaches that level of examination of the dark side of rugged individuality is The Searchers, and it is the only Ford western that I think is a greater masterpiece to a Mann western.
These are all a matter of personal taste, of course. I also love Budd Boetticher’s films for their psychological bent. I also just saw Johnny Guitar for the first time, and how insane is that flick?
Justin, Ford does go beyond the good guys/bad guys routine. In Forte Apache, The Searchers, Two Rode Together, and The Man who shot Liberty Valence for instance, he shows a rather cynical look on who is good or bad. Even in Stagecoach, John Wayne does end up with the prostitute which is ostracized by all the “good” guys. Actually, I cannot think of any other movie made up prior to Stagecoach where the hero does indeed ends up in the loving arms of a prostitute.
The other thing that distinguishes Mann’s Westerns from Ford’s and Hawks’ Western is that Mann’s West looks startlingly different than theirs. Generally speaking, Ford’s West looks like Utah, Hawks’ like Arizona, while Mann used Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, California, New Mexico, and Alberta.
When it comes to westerns it depends on my mood. Ford, Hawks (who really only has two westerns), Mann, and Boetticher are the best. Mann westerns are sort of like outdoor, in color, set in the 1880’s noirs. You know, with horses, pioneer life, and hats. Of course, this flows from the fact that Mann had been a notable director of noirs, He transplants the psychological darkness of that genre into the western, and the result is a small cycle of lean, forceful westerns that I can return to again and again. In another mood I might prefer Fords more communal westerns, and in still another mood I’d like me some lean, minimalist Boetticher films. And then other times I just need “Rio Bravo”.
I’m not familiar with Mann’s westerns, except for The Furies which I saw recently and enjoyed. I loved Mann’s pairing of noir with the western. I don’t believe anyone has mentioned that one — and I know that Joshua was specifically asking about the Jimmy Stewart ones. But is The Furies not considered to be in the same league as his Jimmy Stewart films?
Jeremy, I think your comparison of Ford and Mann was well-put. I haven’t seen enough of Mann’s westerns to weigh in on comparing them with the works of Ford or Hawks, but I do agree that The Searchers is a masterpiece. And it sounds like I need to check out Johnny Guitar!
Should be a great night tonight on TCM.
Jane, The Furies is quite good, though an atypical Western. Mann also made The Last Frontier with Victor Mature and Tin Star with Henry Fonda and Anthony Perkins after the Stewart arc.
Mann’s westerns might not be considered as great or as important as Ford’s or Hawk’s, but to me he will always be the greatest director of westerns. What made his westerns special was that they were not revisionist films, yet they didn’t play by the genre’s rules. They were simple and romantic, yet they were also dark and complex. To me the Naked Spur is his greatest achievement. It juxtaposes the ugliness of human nature with the importance of being decent in an unforgiving world. The film perfectly balances these complicated issues with the lush and romantic storytelling of Hollywood’s golden age (as do most of his westerns). Mann’s contemporary Budd Boetticher also explored complicated issues through traditional storytelling, but as wonderful a director as he was, his films don’t stack up to the best of Mann’s work. Of course, he also had a much smaller budget to work with.
Matt, thanks. I’ll have to keep an eye out for both of those.
Joshua, I did manage to catch The Man From Laramie last night — and I’m sold. So thank you.
It was very entertaining. I didn’t expect to stick with it, but Stewart’s performance sucked me right in. Every time I thought his day couldn’t get any worse, it did! What a town. My only complaint — and it’s a tiny one — is that I wish I had been watching it either on a big screen or on blu-ray. So much discussion about Mann’s landscapes, and I wanted to see more of them. But I’m glad I was able to catch it. I look forward to seeing more of his westerns.
I finished Man of the West awhile ago. It’s my first Anthony Mann film, but I thought it was very good. Like someone else said, it didn’t have alot of ‘flab’ and was well-paced.
The ‘ghost town’ at the end reminded me of Leone and I really appreciated the fact they didn’t try to ‘force’ Cooper and London together as a couple at the end, by which I mean you know they won’t be together.
I’ve only seen The Furies, but enjoyed every brutal minute of it.
Man of the West is my favorite, i think it’s a rich character study. Winchester 73 The Furies and Bend of the River are very good..
I agree with Andre, “Stagecoach” (1939), clearly questioned roles in society. It was a “subversive” film. The heroes, are the outcasts in the film (the alcholic doctor, the prostitute, and the escaped felon, Ringo). Those in higher society, aren’t shown in as good a light, the banker (who stole from his bank), the captain’s wife (who acts with prejudice towards the outcasts), and the gambler (questionable – but does have the hi-society swagger), who vows to defend the captain’s wife, yet is about to kill her..before he meets his end.
I’ve been coming to the conclusion that Anthony Mann is the greatest director of Westerns.
Top 10 Western Directors (in no particular order):
Andre de Toth
Mann’s use of landscape in these films is breathtaking. There are so many directrs who insist on focusing their action in the town or in desert locales. But Mann’s films take place in the wide open counbtry and seem HUGE in scope (They cry out for a big screen).
His Stewart films are all classics, but I’d probably rate Man From Laramie the highest. With Red River, ity stands as the best of westerns. Taht scene where the townspeople grab Stewart and maim his hand says so much about violence and how the taciturn American hero uses it like a crutch.
Sergio Leone, Sergio Leone, and Sergio Leone.
^ Leone is great but let’s put aside Leone for now and discuss Anthony Mann. (I will say this – Leone works best as an entry point for the appreciation of Westerns but should not remain an end point).
Nadafingah is correct. Mann’s use of the Western landscape is incredible. I’d say better than almost anyone. At times, it seems he uses the contrast, starkness and jagged landscapes as externalizations of the inner psychological turmoil of his protagonists.
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