Saturday, March 28, 2015

#553: Man of the West

Directed by: ANTHONY MANN
1958, TSPDT Rank #992

Man of the West was one of the first westerns I can remember truly liking when I was younger, and oddly enough, it's a film that represents of the death of the mythological western outlaw. Made on the heels of a falling out between Anthony Mann and James Stewart, who had made five westerns together earlier in the '50s, Gary Cooper serves as a replacement for what would have been Stewart's character in this film. While watching it for the first time in years, and having now seen all of the Mann-Stewart westerns, I kept trying to imagine Jimmy Stewart in this role and kept coming up short. This seems like a role better suited to Cooper's quiet, mysterious demeanor. It seems difficult to gauge exactly what he's thinking throughout the film (the same kind of ambiguity that made Mann's westerns with Stewart so great), but he always seems to be troubled in some way - torn between loyalty to the deteriorating outlaw who raised him and the honest life he's built for himself since. Eventually it becomes clear that violent death is the only solution to the conflict and tension between the characters - and the aching hopelessness that lurks beneath the film's surface is what makes it one of the strangest and most unique westerns ever made. To me, it feels like a cross between John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Monte Hellman's two 1960s westerns with Jack Nicholson (The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind). It was definitely ahead of its time, and along with many of Mann's other westerns, proved to be a major influence on the many revisionist westerns which followed in subsequent decades.

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