The director Anthony Mann first made his name on a string of film noir films such as T-Men and Raw Deal. However he now best known for his series of westerns he made in the ’50s which started with The Furies and ended with Man of the West which was first one inducted into Masters of Cinema. The latest is The Man From Laramie which is one of the later ones and remains one of the darker westerns to come out of classic Hollywood period.
James Stewart who was in five of Mann’s westerns (they did 3 non-westerns together) stars as Will Lockhart who ends up in this New Mexico small town after he delivers supplies to the town. Unbeknownst to the town’s folk he is also looking for the person who sold rifles to the local tribe of Apaches and wants his revenge on that person because the rifles killed his brother in an attack in the nearby Dutch Creek. From the get-go he is at odds with the Waggoman family who are powerful ranchers in the era and may be involved with the sale of rifles.
The film is an interesting mixture of the more mainstream Howard Hawks/John Ford westerns and the psychological westerns and both very fashionable at the time. The psychological westerns did have some pushback from purists who wanted as Kim Newman says in the interview on disc just wanted “ride bang bang ride”. The character of Lockheart is a vigilante who will do anything to get justice for his brother’s death and the climax is one of the most brutal I’ve ever seen in a non-noir film from this time. Mann like Hitchcock understood the darkness within Jimmy Stewart and didn’t just see him as this all American man who many just saw him as.
I’m not quite sold on Mann as a total auteur quite yet, he doesn’t seem to put a totally unique stamp on the films of his I’ve seen unlike many of his celebrated contemporaries. However he is a solid workman like director who seems to have hired lots of the right people. The film was shot by Charles Lang who shot some great noirs like The Big Heat and Ace in the Hole and it’s a beautifully looking film for sure and he expertly shoots the New Mexican landscape. Lang also shot Marlon Brando’s only directorial effort One-Eyed Jacks which is one of the earlier revisionist westerns. The script was also written by Philip Yordon who wrote a bunch of noirs but also wrote that great western full of lesbian lust Johnny Guitar so the film’s depth probably came from the script more than the direction.
The Man From Laramie remains an interesting western because it’s partly looking back at the Golden era of Hollywood but also looking forward to what would become the revisionist western only a few years later. Jimmy Stewart is great but when wasn’t he really? the rest of the cast are full of classic character actors who have been in everything. The disc includes an audio commentary by Adrian Martin, the aforementioned interview with Kim Newman, the theatrical trailer and of course a booklet with new and old writing on the film.