Last Saturday night I paid my first visit to UCLA's recently opened Anthony Mann festival, where I enjoyed a pair of "B" films, DR. BROADWAY (1942) and TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE (1945).
Tonight I returned to the Billy Wilder Theater for a double bill of the "B" film STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944) paired with THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955).
I saw STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT at the Noir City Film Festival three years ago, where I described it as "absurd yet wonderful." That description held for my second viewing tonight. It's a wacky movie where people don't always act logically and the most amazingly coincidental things occur, yet it's all highly entertaining. I find it a particular pleasure to watch lovely Virginia Grey on a big screen in 35mm.
Anthony Mann's eight collaborations between James Stewart, the only Western in the group which I'd previously seen was the wonderful BEND OF THE RIVER (1952). I don't often make the trip to Los Angeles for a mid-week movie, but I was very glad I was able to see THE MAN FROM LARAMIE for the first time tonight blown up on the huge screen at UCLA. The print was occasionally slightly out of focus or too grainy, but much of it was sharp and crystal clear, and despite the imperfections, seeing this widescreen film in a theater was, all in all, a memorable experience.
Stewart plays Will Lockhart, the title character, who's a man with a mission: He's looking for whoever was responsible for selling repeating rifles to the Apache Indians who massacred his younger brother and several other men in the Cavalry. He arrives in the small town of Coronado, New Mexico, and almost immediately finds himself tangling with the disturbed Dave Waggoman (Alex Nicol), son of powerful ranch owner Alec Waggonman (Donald Crisp). Alec's foreman Vic (Arthur Kennedy) initially helps Will, but ultimately he proves to be an even more dangerous adversary than Dave...and he just might know something about those repeating rifles.
SADDLE THE WIND (1958) and THE BIG COUNTRY (1958). SADDLE THE WIND also features Crisp as a ranch owner mentoring a younger man, albeit in a more sympathetic role; that film also featured the theme of a man trying to manage an unpredictable, mentally unstable relative. The foreman looking up to the paternal ranch owner also called to mind Charles Bickford and Charlton Heston's relationship in THE BIG COUNTRY.
The film reunited Stewart and his BEND OF THE RIVER costar Kennedy, who initially have a somewhat similar "friendly enemies" rapport. Stewart's role ranges from quiet moments, admiring the Waggomans' lovely relative, Barbara (Cathy O'Donnell), to brutally physical, being dragged by a rope over a fire -- a stunt which Stewart did himself.
One of Stewart's best moments is a fantastic tracking shot when Lockhart spots Dave in town and charges toward him, heading straight toward the camera, which keeps pulling back until Stewart finally reaches the man and slugs him. It's a thrilling sequence.
VERTIGO (1958), are endlessly fascinating. As Julie Adams commented at the screening of BEND OF THE RIVER (1952) a couple of years ago, it was a marvel what Stewart could convey simply with his eyes. One of the things I find interesting is that while Stewart played strong, powerful men in these Westerns, he also didn't hesitate to show fear or anguish.
The entire cast is extremely strong, including Crisp (most recently seen by me in his Oscar-winning role in HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY) and Aline MacMahon as Crisp's one-time love who is now a competing rancher. Arthur Kennedy manages to make a loathsome character surprisingly sympathetic at times, as his respect and love for his boss Alec is not returned as he had hoped and expected.
previous films, and I was impressed with his brave performance in this as the childish and unstable Dave. I wouldn't have known Nicol had such a twisted performance in him.
The film also has notable turns by Wallace Ford as a kindly half-Irish, half-Indian former Army scout, Jack Elam as a killer stalking Stewart, and James Millican as the town sheriff. Millican (THE SILVER WHIP) is someone I've come to very much admire in recent months, and I'm always happy when I see his name in the opening credits. Very sadly, this was one of his last roles, as he passed away from cancer the year THE MAN FROM LARAMIE was released.
Viewers will recognize Cathy O'Donnell from William Wyler's THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946) and BEN-HUR (1959), as well as Nicholas Ray's THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1948) and Mann's SIDE STREET (1949). Her Barbara is interesting, if somewhat underdeveloped; her tentative relationship with Lockhart mostly seems to serve the purpose of softening his character; Will and Barbara seem to have a deeper relationship in the publicity stills than they actually do in the film! Barbara is semi-engaged to Vic but that's not explored in much depth. The film has a dense, meaty plot, yet despite that I felt that Barbara was rather shortchanged.
SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956), with a similar "look me up sometime" unresolved ending as Will and Barbara part ways.
THE MAN FROM LARAMIE runs 101 minutes. It was filmed in Technicolor by Charles Lang.
The script was cowritten by Frank Burt and Philip Yordan, based on a Thomas T. Flynn story from the Saturday Evening Post. Yordan wrote many outstanding film noir and Western titles, including DILLINGER (1945), THE CHASE (1946), REIGN OF TERROR (1949), JOHNNY GUITAR (1954), and THE BIG COMBO (1955) to name just a few. The underrated comedy JOHNNY DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1944) was one of his earliest films. Yordan won the Oscar for writing the Western BROKEN LANCE (1954).
THE MAN FROM LARAMIE is available on DVD, VHS, and streaming on Amazon Instant Video. The DVD can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix.
This Columbia film is also shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.
Previous reviews of additional Stewart-Mann films: THUNDER BAY (1953) and STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND (1955). I intend to take a fresh look at THUNDER BAY, as it's been several years since I've seen it and I'm curious if I'll like it better now, given how much I've come to admire Dan Duryea in particular.