Man of the West Review
Man Of The West begins uncomfortably. As uncomfortable, it would seem, as Jones (Gary Cooper) as he squeezes into the bench seats of the train that is carrying him to Fort Worth. Before the train even begins to move, Cooper has struck several other passengers with his carpet bag, has disturbed a few others by his attempts to sit square in his seat and, finally, grabs a hold of the man seated in front of him as the train finally pulls away. Cooper, fifty-seven years old by the time he starred in Man Of The West and three years from his death, was as much a part of the west as Monument Valley, and plays against type as a quiet homesteader looking out for a schoolteacher.
The comedy in the situation doesn't sit well with Cooper. Partly, it's that he's simply too imposing a man to play things for laughs, partly the kind of man he was in High Noon and Vera Cruz but it's also clear that he's hiding something in his past. A conversation with a lawman before boarding the train suggests that Cooper is known from somewhere. As he's warned to be careful as to who he talks with, there's clearly something about it that we should be wary of. And yet, by his bumbling on the train, he looks a plain old fool.
Jones's mettle doesn't change even with his surviving the holding up of the train that he's on. As all able-bodied men are called off the train to gather wood for the Native Americans in Fort Worth. Cooper takes his place collecting wood on the embankment when a gang of cowboys arrive and begin shooting. Together with card sharp Sam Beasley (Arthur O'Connell) and saloon bar singer Billie Ellis (Julie London), all of whom are left behind when the train leaves, Jones guides them across country, alongside the train tracks and over fields until he comes upon a shack far from the nearest town. It's there that he meets Dock (Lee J Cobb) and the story of Link Jones becomes clear. Many years before, Link was part of Dock's gang, robbing stages, towns and trains and always moving on before they were caught. It was the only life he'd known and Dock was like a father to him. But he'd learned about real life and left the gang, got himself married and had a couple of children. He thought he'd left all this behind but as a way of saving Sam and Billie, plays along with Dock. And still looking for a way out.
Man Of The West is a bleak and unforgiving western. The film has been trimmed of its more excessive moments of violence to reflect the censorship of the time but not only is there plenty of violence on the screen but what isn't shown is made obvious by its aftermath. It's disturbing enough when Dock's gang, led by Coaley (Jack Lord) force Billie to strip while Link, with a knife at his throat, is made to watch. Link takes his revenge on Coaley in what begins with a straightforward fistfight but which ends with Link tearing the clothes of Coaley as cries out in shame. It's only with his hands on Coaley's throat that Link remembers that he's no longer a killer. Later, though, Man Of The West drags him back to who he was. He finds Billie in the back of a wagon, blood stains on her torn clothes. Like Unforgiven, it's the way of the west to make a killer of men and like William Munny, Link Jones finds that a gun fits him well enough. However, unlike Unforgiven, this never feels like the final word on the western, no full stop on the killing as civilisation rides west. When Link leads a raid on the deserted town of Lasso, one suspects that life as an outlaw will continue, perhaps not for Link but certainly for others.
The pleasure about this job is not the hours spent tapping away at a keyboard nor the free discs but about finding a film that you might not have heard of but which, once seen, stands out as a great piece of filmmaking. As one of Optimum's Western Classics series, there's little fanfare accompanying this release but it's deserving of much better. Not one of its ninety-four minutes are wasted. Anthony Mann breaks the film into three acts, the middle one of which, Dock's cabins, is as tense as any, with Link desperately looks for a way out. The gunplay in the final act is mild by today's standards but looks convincingly messy. Sixguns don't make for accuracy and the cowboys have time to bleed out from wounds that are scattered over their bodies. Not even Link escapes the shooting but the bullet wound that he bears is just one sign of his riding with outlaws once again. It's a wound that will probably heal quicker than his memories of Dock's gang.
Like Legend Of The Lost, Man Of The West shows its age. Optimum have probably used exactly the same transfer that was used for the 2005 MGM release and while there's only a little in the way of damage, the colours look to be slightly muted, as though washed-out. Some of this may have been deliberate. Only in its final act does Man Of The West move to a location typical of a western but prior to that it's in muddy fields and rundown farms. However, Julie London, wearing a pink dress for the film, out to stand out more and just about does against the browns and greens of the background. Otherwise, it's sharp enough but does look as though it could well have done with a full restoration. The DD2.0 mono soundtrack is fine, mixed louder than was Legend Of The Lost but with little else that stands out. Everything sounds fine, usually pretty good, but really no better than it ought to be. Finally, there are no subtitles.
There are no extras on this DVD release.