Anthony Mann Festival tonight for another double bill pairing a film noir title with a Western.
First up was HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948) which I first reviewed in 2008 and which I saw again on a big screen at last year's Noir City Film Festival.
I had initially thought I might skip tonight's movies, since I'd seen HE WALKED BY NIGHT relatively recently, but I enjoyed THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955) so much I decided it would be worth watching HE WALKED BY NIGHT again in order to see THE NAKED SPUR (1953).
I'm really glad I made the trip, as I enjoyed seeing HE WALKED BY NIGHT again tremendously. Mann did uncredited directing work on the film and is believed so have been a major influence on its style. The film has everything a docu-noir fan loves: a booming voiceover by Reed Hadley, great shots of '40s Los Angeles, interesting procedural and "CSI" angles, wonderful character actors -- I especially love a scene with John Dehner and Byron Foulger -- and truly stunning black and white cinematography by the great John Alton. The shots of police cars racing out of the station and the shadows in the final tunnel chase are pure noir beauty. Anyone who loves film noir needs to see this key title. (March 2017 Update: Here's a brief piece on seeing it again at UCLA's 2017 Festival of Preservation.)
Moving on to the second film of the evening, it was a great pleasure to see THE NAKED SPUR for the very first time on a big screen. It was a compelling 91 minutes which I very much enjoyed.
THE NAKED SPUR is a five-person drama following the oft-used Western formula of disparate types united on a perilous journey. It's a film of the highest caliber thanks to excellent performances, a well-paced script, and beautiful location shooting in Colorado. The movie was filmed on location in Technicolor by William C. Mellor.
James Stewart plays Howard Kemp, who's closing in on "wanted dead or alive" outlaw Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan). Just before capturing Vandergroat, Kemp meets up with an old prospector, Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell), and a dishonorably discharged soldier, Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker). Both men help capture Vandergroat and are surprised to learn that Kemp's not a lawman, but a bounty hunter -- and they each want to claim their share of the reward money.
Matters are further complicated by Lina (Janet Leigh), the daughter of Vandergroat's dead partner, who's been traveling with him and is determined to help him escape.
Until this past week the only Stewart-Mann Western I'd seen was BEND OF THE RIVER (1952). With THE MAN FROM LARAMIE and especially THE NAKED SPUR, I'm now finally getting a deeper look at the justly lauded intense, disturbed characters Stewart played in these Mann Westerns. Stewart's Kemp is filled with a rage and sadness which is only gradually revealed. It's quite an intense performance, and when Kemp finally breaks down at the end, it's also deeply moving, as the viewer hopes he's put his demons to rest at last and will find a measure of peace in a new future.
SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956), RIDE LONESOME (1959), and COMANCHE STATION (1960). It's interesting to compare how each of these films takes a genre convention and turns it into something memorably unique.
I particularly enjoyed seeing Millard Mitchell -- R.F. Simpson of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) -- as the grizzled Jesse Tate. Sadly, the talented Mitchell died of cancer the year this film was released. IMDb says Denver Pyle did uncredited work in the role which led me to wonder if he doubled for Mitchell due to his illness.
Ralph Meeker is appropriately slimy as the soldier who initially seems to join up with Kemp for the challenge but who has his own agenda, which is finding safety in numbers. The fact that there's a shapely young woman underneath Lina's boyish garb is added inducement for him to stick around, and he clearly doesn't have the best of intentions. That same year Meeker appeared in MGM's CODE TWO (1953); his best-known role may be that of Mike Hammer in KISS ME DEADLY (1955).
Janet Leigh is fine as the confused young woman whose loyalties gradually shift. Hers has not been an easy life, which apparently accounts in part for her tomboy appearance, and life gets harder still as she must confront brutal deaths several times in the span of a couple of days.
WINCHESTER '73 (1950) and THE FAR COUNTRY (1954) at UCLA later in the series.
Those interested in this series may want to read a column by Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.
THE NAKED SPUR is available on DVD in the James Stewart Signature Collection. It also had a VHS release.
The DVD can be rented from ClassicFlix or Netflix. The movie can also be rented for streaming from Amazon Instant Video.
Earlier films seen in this series: DR. BROADWAY (1942), which was paired with the previously reviewed TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE (1945); and THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955), shown with the previously reviewed STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944).