Saturday, September 07, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Man Without a Star (1955) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Kirk Douglas plays the title role in MAN WITHOUT A STAR (1955), a Universal Pictures Western just released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

Douglas's character, Dempsey Rae, is an itinerant cowboy who takes a younger man named Jeff (William Cambell) under his wing.

Together they are hired by the foreman (Jay C. Flippen) of a large ranch with an absentee owner. When the owner, Reed Bowman, shows up, imagine everyone's surprise when it turns out Reed is a woman (Jeanne Crain).

It's an even bigger surprise that Reed is completely ruthless, planning to drive all of the smaller local ranchers out of business. To that end she hires an enforcer named Steve Miles (Richard Boone). She also tries to use her sexual wiles to manipulate Dempsey to do her bidding, but he ultimately sides with the other ranchers, despite their use of barbed wire, something he absolutely can't stand.

I've never been much of a Douglas fan and found him lacking in other '50s Westerns such as THE BIG TREES (1952) and THE INDIAN FIGHTER (1955); he often comes off as far too arrogant to really enjoy watching. This was the strongest of his Westerns I've seen to date; he's less abrasive than usual -- even likeable! -- with a more subtly modulated performance, and he's working with a good script and a strong cast.

The film's tone is also interesting in that it combines some really brutal violence -- the barbed wire scenes made me cringe -- with an overall upbeat vibe; there are some nice touches of humor, and the outcome is ultimately positive as both Dempsey and Jeff mature in differing ways and turn their lives in new directions.

Crain, a longtime favorite of mine, is quite good in a role which is definitely a change from her usual screen persona, and she's also beautifully photographed; that said, I prefer Crain's usual much more likeable roles so I'm not sure I could say I really enjoyed her in the part. She was way too convincing as a coldhearted ice queen!

Additionally, my biggest quibble with the otherwise strong script was I would have liked some insight into what made her character into a power-hungry, manipulative woman happy to have her employees killing anyone who stands in her way.

Claire Trevor registers strongly as a good-time gal who's an old friend of Dempsey's and the film's most reliable voice of reason, encouraging Dempsey to have the gumption to do what he knows is right.

Boone is always good, though this role is less flashy than some of his later villainous roles, which notably included THE TALL T (1957) just a couple years later. Campbell likewise does well as the naive young sidekick Dempsey teaches to be a real cowboy.

The supporting cast also includes Mara Corday, Myrna Hansen, Roy Barcroft, Sheb Wooley, Myron Healey, and Frank Chase.

MAN WITHOUT A STAR was directed by King Vidor. It runs 89 minutes.

The film was written by Borden Chase and D.D. Beauchamp based on a novel by Dee Linford. Both writers did considerable work in the genre; Chase, in particular, wrote some of my favorite Westerns, such as WINCHESTER '73 (1950) and BEND OF THE RIVER (1952).

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is a very nice widescreen print which does a great job showing off the Technicolor photography of Russell Metty.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray extras include a commentary by Toby Roan. I've listened to many of his past commentaries and they're always informative; I hope to catch up with this one in the next few days.

The trailer is also included; it's in fairly poor, dark condition, but welcome nonetheless; I'd rather have access to a trailer than not. The extras are rounded out with an additional trailer gallery for six films available from Kino Lorber.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this film and believe my fellow Western fans will find it interesting viewing as well, particularly on Kino Lorber's attractive new release.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Man Without a Star has long been a favourite Douglas picture and one whose VHS tape wore out long ago. I like to think Jeanne Crain had a blast playing this tough gal.

The story was reworked by Universal for The Virginian in its first season. Brian Keith plays the Dempsey character in Duel at Shiloh which recounts how Steve (Gary Clarke) first came to the ranch.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Glad to know this is one you know well! I suspect you're right, Jeanne must have had a good time "switching it up" from playing wholesome, earnest all-American good girls.

How interesting about THE VIRGINIAN! I must have seen that one at some point but I don't remember it. It just so happens I have Season 1 on DVD, I will make a note to check that episode out. Thanks much!!

Best wishes,

6:33 PM  
Anonymous John Hall said...

MAN WITHOUT A STAR was also remade by Universal as A MAN CALLED GANNON with Anthony Franciosa, Michael Sarrazin, Judi West & Susan Oliver. It was released in 1968. I saw it theatrically before I saw the Kirk Douglas version.

12:12 AM  

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