Label: Twilight Time
Released: June 10, 2014
Synopsis: A freight hauler loses his mules and wagons to a sadistic spoiled brat, but stays in town to exact a secret personal revenge scheme.
Special Features: Isolated Stereo Music & Effects Track / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.
From film noir to westerns and increasingly bloated period epics, Anthony Mann was a director with a flair for atmosphere, characters in states of deep conflict, and capturing stunning vistas, especially in wide film formats like CinemaScope.
Mann made several films with James Stewart, who used his free agent status to pick and choose a variety of roles that may never have popped up as an indentured studio contract player. Within the western genre, and especially in Mann’s films, Stewart excelled in playing the everyman – quite different from his screen persona with Alfred Hitchcock, another iconoclastic director within whom he would star in a number of memorable films.
Stewart’s knack for playing good men abused and tormented by brutes also ensured his characters were wholly sympathetic, and Man from Laramie certainly offered the actor a role in which a self-employed, independent man loses everything at the hands of a rancher’s son, and stubbornly refuses to give in, sticking around long enough to be a thorn in the spine of both spoiled brat Dave Waggoman (whiny Alex Nicol), and hard-working foreman Vic (Arthur Kennedy) who soon realizes his loyalty to the family will never yield him a meter of land when Alex Waggoman dies (Donald Crisp).
What’s unique about the character of Will Lockhart is that even among the goons that surround his main foes – if not the smarter foes like Vic – he commands respect; if they can’t scare him away, they try to hire him, and if that doesn’t work, they keep an eye on him.
Woven into the story is a gun smuggling operation, but the anchor is Vic, led on by Alec with threats and false promises purely to ensure Vic will look after idiot son Dave; Alec has no intention of willing any property to Vic for his years of service and suffering, and the somewhat brotherly rivalry extends backwards, with Dave loathing Vic for being the smarter man whom his father trusts without question.
Lockhart’s arrival amid the disintegration of the Waggoman family is pure happenstance: looking for a new cargo to haul after completing a fresh delivery, he guides his crew to the salt flats. After being called a thief by Dave, he’s made an example by shooting the mules and burning the wagons. With no means of earning an income and a secret agenda, Lockhart eventually gives in to the overtures of Kate Canaday (Aline MacMahon), Alec’s neighbour and former lover from days long past, and becomes a foreman, which puts him in closer proximity to Dave Waggoman but sets up a nasty encounter, and sets off a mess of conflicts to explode.
Philip Yordan’s script (co-written with Frank Burt) has slight echoes of Broken Lance (1955), in which brotherly hatred destroys a patriarch and his family, but it’s still anchored to the ongoing inner torment of Vic, the film’s ostensible villain. Kennedy could play sadists with a nasty, smirking edge, but in Laramie he plays Vic as a man whose life is suddenly being torn apart: longtime fiancée Barbara Waggoman (pretty if slightly doe-eye Cathy O’Donnell) starts to set her romantic eyes on Lockhart; Alec starts to threaten him when he tries to get some concrete assurances of a firm place in the ranch; and a small arms business he’s been running blows into a disaster when Dave gets greedy and careless.
Instead of Lockhart’s own secret agenda, the destruction of Vic’s world is really the film’s most compelling storyline, and even moments before Alec takes a deadly tumble, he’s begging his fatherly mentor to turn back.
Mann exploits the landscape with gorgeous widescreen compositions (courtesy of Charles Lang) and some unusual angles which, when canted, emphasize the precarious mountain terrain the men must ride. George Duning’s score isn’t heavily reliant on its main theme, and it’s a score that seems to blend with natural sounds and images, never drawing attention to itself.
Jack Elam has a small role as a scummy blackmailer, and Crisp is superb as Alec, underplaying a role that otherwise demands a certain degree of hard edge and no nonsense temperament. MacMahon is great as the no-nonsense old flame whose ranch Alec is trying to buy up, and while the finale is a little trite, it allows for some closure, in that one character’s dependence is handled by another with dignity and respect.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray sports a fine HD transfer featuring the early 2.55:1 super-wide CinemaScope ratio, mastered by Sony in 4K from the original negative, and Duning’s score is isolated in a stereo music & effects track. Julie Kirgo’s essay gives a tight overview of Mann’s westerns and his unique fixations on dysfunctional characters, family secrets, and the anti-Fordian towns where welcome mats are sometimes covering trip-wires.
Mann’s westerns with James Stewart include Winchester ’73 (1950), Bend of the River (1952), The Naked Spur (1953), Thunder Bay (1953), The Far Country (1954), and The Man from Laramie (1955). The pair also collaborated on the fine, sentimental romantic bio-drama The Glenn Miller Story (1954).
Mann would direct several more westerns, but after the big budget Cimarron (1960) he became enmeshed in several epic productions, including El Cid (1961) and The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) for producer Samuel Bronston, and the classic war film The Heroes of Telemark (1965).
© 2015 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review