sat 04/07/2020

DVD: Man of the West | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Man of the West

DVD: Man of the West

Gary Cooper stars in one of the finest - and darkest - Westerns of the 1950s

Back among the bad men: Link Jones (Gary Cooper) can't escape his past in 'Man of the West'United Artists

The 19 films directed by Anthony Mann between 1950 and 1960 included all 11 of his Westerns – five of them psychologically nuanced vehicles for James Stewart as an irascible loner scourged or mutilated for his obsessive pursuit of some goal. The zenith of Mann’s unflinching study of violence and compromised masculinity was 1953’s Naked Spur, though 1958’s Man of the West, starring Gary Cooper, runs it close. Jean-Luc Godard, for one, has raved about it.

A family man travelling to Fort Worth to hire his rural town’s first schoolmarm, Cooper’s middle-aged Link Jones is disconcertingly meek at first. A hick fazed by loco steam and the lurch of his railcar, he is targeted by garrulous grifter Beesley (Arthur O’Connell), who ropes in taciturn saloon singer Billie (Julie London, pictured below with Cooper) to con him. When a failed train robbery strands them, Link leads them to the viper’s nest where he was schooled as a killer and robber by his adoptive father, Dock Tobin (Lee J Cobb), now a Lear-like madman nostalgic for past butchery. The repressed has returned.

The prodigal Link pretends to join Dock’s band of “pigs” – reminiscent of the cretinous Cleggs in John Ford’s Wagonmaster – to protect Billie from rape, and he repays in kind the neanderthal (Jack Lord) who makes her strip. It’s clear that his restoration to the savage milieu has elicited his ruthless efficiency (which suggests it influenced Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven), but at what cost?

The showdown unfolds in and beyond a ghost town, director of photography Ernest Haller brilliantly exploiting the parameters of the CinemaScope frame as Mann choreographs a distended dance of death. The larger setting is an especially bleak lunar canyon, chosen not to mythicize Link’s stand against his degenerate kin but to indicate the moral barrenness of the frontier.

Cooper won his second Oscar playing the deserted, frightened marshal Will Kane in 1952’s High Noon. Link is as outnumbered as Kane, but less harrowed, more watchful, deadlier; Cobb (pictured above, right), who was actually ten years younger than Cooper, piles on the rhetoric as Dock but his performance works. The dual DVD/Blu-ray disc's few extras include an anecdotal commentary track and a video interview with film scholar Douglas Pye, who emphasizes the irreconcilability of Link’s good and evil sides.

The prodigal Link pretends to join Dock’s band of 'pigs' to protect Billie from rape

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5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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