Sunday, March 23, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Far Country (1954) at UCLA

My attendance at UCLA's terrific Anthony Mann Festival drew to a close with tonight's double bill of THE TALL TARGET (1951) and THE FAR COUNTRY (1954).

The series continues for one more night, with a March 30th screening of MAN OF THE WEST (1958) and THE TIN STAR (1957), but I'll be attending a double bill at the Noir City Festival that evening.

I managed to attend eight double bills in the series, totaling 16 films; nine of the movies were first-time viewings. What a pleasure to get to know so much of Mann's work in a short time frame, and almost all in 35mm! I've enjoyed every single movie in the series, with my favorite new-to-me titles being WINCHESTER '73 (1950) and tonight's Western, THE FAR COUNTRY (1954).

THE FAR COUNTRY "felt" very much like both WINCHESTER '73 and another favorite Anthony Mann-James Stewart Western, BEND OF THE RIVER (1952). It's "movie comfort food" at its finest, with an absorbing story, a great cast, and utterly fantastic location filming at Jasper National Park.

I liked THE FAR COUNTRY so much that I immediately ordered it on DVD in an inexpensive four-film set with BEND OF THE RIVER (which I only owned on VHS), NIGHT PASSAGE (1957), and THE RARE BREED (1966). It's also available as a single-title release or in a six-film set of Stewart Westerns. This is a film I know I'll want to revisit in the future.

Stewart plays Jeff Webster, who as the movie begins arrives in Skagway with his herd of steers; he's on his way to the remote gold rush town of Dawson, where he expects to make a small fortune selling the beef. He has trouble with wanna-be rustlers and especially a crooked judge, Gannon (John McIntire), who lays claim to the herd.

Webster and his partner Ben (Walter Brennan) take jobs guiding saloon owner Ronda (Ruth Roman) to Dawson, where she plans to open a new business. Webster also comes up with a plan to reclaim his steers and get them safely over the Canadian boundary line.

Gannon and his men arrive in Dawson and try to continue their crooked ways, forcing the townspeople to decide whether to give in or fight back.

My favorite thing about the movie was the beautiful locations; the Technicolor photography was by William H. Daniels, who did such a great job with the black and white vistas of WINCHESTER '73. It's one of those remarkable films where you can almost feel and smell what it was like to actually be standing there at the time the cameras were rolling.

And what a cast! There's at least one scene where Harry Morgan, Robert J. Wilke, Jack Elam, and Steve Brodie are all lined up in front of the camera, which made me happy in and of itself. There's also Corinne Calvet, Jay C. Flippen, Connie Gilchrist, Chubby Johnson, Kathleen Freeman, Royal Dano, John Doucette, and Chuck Roberson.

There are all sorts of nice little touches, including the bell on Jeff's saddle and Ben's obsession with coffee. It may not be the best of Stewart and Mann's Westerns, but I felt better for having spent time with it.

THE FAR COUNTRY was written by Borden Chase, who also worked on WINCHESTER '73 (1950) and BEND OF THE RIVER (1952). It runs 97 minutes.

Prior to THE FAR COUNTRY, what a pleasure it was to see THE TALL TARGET in 35mm! The print was lovely, and in 35mm I could appreciate all the more how beautifully filmed the movie is; the dim lamplight of this "up all night" story seems authentic and looks quite stunning. I especially adore the opening credits sequence, which uses train sounds rather than music.

Earlier films seen in this series: DR. BROADWAY (1942), which was paired with the previously reviewed TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE (1945); THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955), shown with the previously reviewed STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944); THE NAKED SPUR (1953), shown with the previously reviewed HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948); THE LAST FRONTIER (1955), seen with the previously reviewed STRANGE IMPERSONATION (1947); RAILROADED! (1947), shown with the previously seen DESPERATE (1947); RAW DEAL (1948), shown with the previously reviewed T-MEN (1947); and SIDE STREET (1950) and WINCHESTER '73 (1950).

November 2019 Update: THE FAR COUNTRY is now available on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy. My review of the Blu-ray may be found here.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Love this: "There's at least one scene where Harry Morgan, Robert J. Wilke, Jack Elam, and Steve Brodie are all lined up in front of the camera, which made me happy in and of itself."

5:15 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Whenever coffee comes up on our grocery list, the hubby goes into his Walter Brennan as Ben impersonation about how he can't get along without his coffee. It's loud, it gets a little annoying, and one of these days I don't think he's every going to be able to come back from it.

I love your description of how the location looked on the big screen. Just as I've always imagined it.

6:58 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Hi Laura
Referring back to "High Spade" and his relationship with the Stewart character in "Winchester 73", similarly in "The Far Country" (and without giving any spoilers) Stewart's friendship with the old man played by Walter Brennan is equally noteworthy. They fuss, they bicker, all in a warm yet non-sentimental relationship that is at the heart of the movie.

So glad you have now seen it and loved it as much as I do. Generally considered one of the lesser films in the series - I don't agree.
Best wishes,

11:43 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Since you mentioned her name only in passing, I will put in a strong word for Corinne Calvet as Renee. Though there may be a few heroines in the Mann/Stewart movies who are more dramatically complex or strike a deeper note, there isn't one who I enjoy more than her. Such a fresh character, and she is so charming and funny, while "dressing her down" of course only makes her sexier. It's amusing that Jeff doesn't seem to quite get that and I guess I'm always hopeful he will after the fadeout--but, yes, I know, thinking about what happens after the end is something I've said we can't really do and now I'm doing it!

It's great you've seen all the Mann/Stewart Westerns now, Laura, and all on the big screen. There has to be a first time, of course, but even though one can't look forward to that afterwards, my feeling from personal experience is that these movies continue to give as much pleasure when one comes back to them. There aren't many movies in any genre that hold up better--and somehow knowing them only makes one appreciate that all the more.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks to you all for your comments!

Jacqueline, isn't it great seeing so many wonderful "faces" in a movie like that?

Caftan Woman, I LOL re the coffee! it really is just spectacular on the big screen, one of the best-looking films among the many I've seen.

Jerry, that's a great parallel between High Spade and Ben, I do definitely see that. When Stewart enters the picture he's a bit scary-looking but we know if Ben vouches for him he must be A-OK!

I'm with you, Jerry, I didn't find this a lesser film at all. The playing out of good vs. evil against that stunning backdrop, another fine performance from Stewart, a great cast...loved it! Although I admired THE MAN FROM LARAMIE and especially THE NAKED SPUR, it's the other three Westerns I'll be returning to most often.

Blake, thanks for adding your thoughts on Corinne Calvet. As much as I loved the movie I guess she really didn't make an impression one way or the other -- perhaps at least in part because I'm not fond of the wardrobe look. (And wow, was Ruth Roman stunning!) I LOL re you wondering about what happens after the fadeout -- good for you!

As Blake knows I saw far more of the Mann series than I'd originally planned -- each night was so rewarding that it helped pull me back to another, and another...

Blake, I have the feeling you probably understand why once I have some longed-for films finally in my possession I still seem to put off seeing them -- knowing there will be only one "first time" and sometimes waiting for the right moment and mood. That said, I'm sure you're right about these films continuing to give pleasure in the years ahead -- it's been that way for me with BEND OF THE RIVER, I only appreciate it more with each viewing, and I'm sure I'll feel that way about WINCHESTER '73 and THE FAR COUNTRY, in particular. I appreciate your and Jerry's encouragement to make it a point to see these films at long last!

Best wishes,

7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may not be the best of Stewart and Mann's Westerns, but I felt better for having spent time with it.

Laura, that's a pretty good way of looking at the movie. I've spent time mulling over it's relative worth among the other Mann/Stewart westerns,and finally decided it doesn't really matter all that much. It's a good film on its own terms, and that's the only thing that actually matters.

And thanks for mentioning my own piece in your weekly round-up.


4:08 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts, Colin, and you're very welcome!

Here's a link to Colin's post for those who'd like to read more on this film.

Best wishes,

5:56 PM  
Blogger egomoi said...

People write about the Mann/Stewart collaboration without considering Thunder Bay. It is not a western, but a northern. About fracking and shrimping, and the conflict therein. Not exactly PC, but a terrific show all the same. Stewart and Dan Duryea are partners (Duryea is actually a hood guy sidekick). Gilbert Roland is along as a shrimper. Beautiful Canada photography, and in some ways it is the best Mann/Stewart collaboration. It should be assessed along with the westerns IMHO.

12:29 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

As it happens, I just wrote about THUNDER BAY yesterday:

Actually, it was filmed in Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico, rather than Canada. I agree, it's very good and I especially like seeing Duryea as a good guy.

Best wishes,

9:53 AM  

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