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The Far Country

07 Jun

And so I come to the last western made by James Stewart and Anthony Mann, not the last they did together but rather the last one to be featured on this site. For a long time I tended to look upon The Far Country (1954) as the least of the Mann/Stewart westerns but, having been challenged on that view in the past, I asked myself to reassess it. On reflection, I feel my initial stance was both unfair and even lacked a certain logic – after all, there really is no such thing as a lesser Mann/Stewart western. I also think I know why I once undervalued the film, and it’s essentially for the same reason I was sightly ambivalent at one time about the collaboration between actor and director that never was: Night Passage. In short, the film doesn’t have what I can only term the sustained intensity of the other westerns these two men made. Yet to latch onto that aspect is to do the film a huge disservice; where the other films have that sustained intensity The Far Country has more isolated instances of it, and this actually fits the development of the plot and theme perfectly.

Perhaps the most noticeable motif in the films of Anthony Mann is the way his characters are forever driving themselves upwards, striving to attain a higher place and sometimes overreaching themselves in the process. In The Far Country Jeff Webster (James Stewart) is pushing himself further up the globe from the off, from Wyoming to Seattle and on to the north – the Yukon. Webster is a trail boss, a man with a herd of cattle to bring to market. That he’s a hard and uncompromising man is evident from the first scenes where it’s plainly stated that he shot and killed two cowboys who tried to desert him on the way – although it’s later revealed that the deceased had also planned to take his herd with them when they left. Webster’s partner is Ben Tatum (Walter Brennan), a man of milder temperament whose ambitions stretch only as far as a ranch in Utah and a plentiful supply of coffee. One would have thought that having got this far, the worst of their trials lay behind these two men. However, that’s not to be. Gannon (John McIntire) is one of those conniving opportunists one often finds in border areas – he’s a man who uses the law, his version of the law that is, to ensure all profits accrue back to him. He seizes on the chance to confiscate Webster’s herd on a legal technicality that’s little more than a whim. However, Webster is no fool and when he’s offered the job of leading saloon owner Ronda Castle’s (Ruth Roman) outfit into Canada he turns it to his advantage. While Gannon is under the illusion that Webster is content to try his luck in the Canadian gold fields the latter snatches his herd from under his nose and jumps the border. So all’s well that ends well? Not exactly – Webster is a hard-nosed individualist, one of those men who look after themselves and leave the others to their own devices. However, the move north sees that isolationist position challenged. New friendships are forged – Rube (Jay C Flippen) and more especially the freckle-faced tomboy Renee (Corinne Calvet) – and with those come obligations, something Webster has assiduously avoided thus far. As first Ronda and then later the malignant Gannon set their sights on a piece of the action in the lucrative gold fields, Webster is forced to take stock of his previous philosophy of exclusively looking out for number one.

The other Mann/Stewart westerns were mainly concerned with individuals haunted by their past, tales of revenge and redemption earned the hard way. The Far Country differs in the sense that the Stewart character isn’t a man directly dogged by a painful history. There is an allusion to a woman who wounded him emotionally, perhaps partially explaining his remoteness from those around him. However, there isn’t that sense of someone running from himself. Instead what we get is a representation of total detachment, a man who places self-interest above all else. For most of the movie Jeff Webster really isn’t all that nice a guy, he cares not a jot who gets hurt so long as his own interests are best served. And so the theme here is more one of renewal and rediscovery, setting it a little apart from the other revenge focused films. The Stewart character isn’t at war with himself, as so often seemed to be the case, although he is eventually forced to question his previous attitude. This is what, for me anyway, makes the film a bit different – the moments of intensity occur in brief flashes, at least until Webster’s hand is forced by Gannon’s cruelty. Of course the threat of brutality and abrupt violence that characterizes the Mann/Stewart westerns lurks just below the surface – it’s this (and also the warmth that springs from the feeling of community) which finally provokes Webster, and consequently allows him to get back in touch with his own humanity.

The Far Country gave Stewart the chance to display more of his trademark affability than his other westerns with Mann, though it remains of the slightly hard-edged variety. Those other films concerned themselves more with a reconciliation with the circumstances and situations arising out of a damaged past whereas here Stewart has to gradually come to terms with his own failings as a human being. As such, the characterization is quite different yet no less interesting. In place of a deep psychological trauma which colors his actions, Stewart has to confront an ingrained emotional detachment instead. The catalyst, as usual, is violence and humiliation, and the transformation – the path towards renewal – is no less dramatic.

Naturally, everything revolves around Stewart’s character, but there’s plenty of good support from a fine cast. Walter Brennan had the lovable old coot thing nailed down by this stage in his career, and his turn as the coffee-obsessed partner provides a nice counterpoint to Stewart’s coolness. Brennan is the human face of the pair, the one audiences can most easily relate to and feel sympathy for. Corinne Calvet fulfills a similar function; there’s an amusing sweetness to this ingenue of the wilderness, although it lessens her impact as one half of the romantic interest. Ruth Roman, on the other hand, is a knowing, worldly figure – she’s arguably a better match for Stewart’s profit-minded cynic, but loses some of her allure as Stewart later finds himself examining his motives and allegiances. She’s actually one of the most interesting figures in the movie, retaining a degree of ambiguity throughout. However, there’s nothing at all ambiguous about John McIntire’s Gannon – he’s the real villain of the piece and positively glories in his iniquity and callousness. McIntire, along with Brennan, was one of the finest character actors of the golden age and it’s a genuine pleasure to see him sink his teeth into a role like this. Anthony Mann clearly liked working with Jay C Flippen – he used him often in his movies – and gave him another good role in The Far Country as the kind-hearted Rube with a fondness for the whiskey bottle. Already were looking at a pretty impressive battery of seasoned performers but when you bear in mind that the film also found parts for Robert J Wilke, Royal Dano, Harry Morgan, Chubby Johnson and Steve Brodie it ought to give an idea of the depth of talent involved.

The Far Country has long been available on DVD and really is due an upgrade to Blu-ray by now. Early editions in the US presented the film open-matte, but later pressings were in the correct widescreen ratio. I have the UK DVD, which was always the widescreen version, and it looks pretty good. William Daniels’ photography of the beautiful Canadian locations looks terrific while colors and sharpness are quite satisfactory. As I said at the beginning, there was a time when I tried to rate the Mann/Stewart westerns against each other but that’s a pointless exercise really. Over time I’ve come to understand that all of these films are great in their own ways – to try to compare them or view them as competing productions is to pick away at their greatness, and I honestly don’t want to do that. I held off writing about this film for ages, and for reasons which may appear foolish to others. Although I’ve seen all the Mann/Stewart westerns countless times I kind of liked the idea that there was still another one I had yet to feature. I didn’t like the feeling that I wouldn’t have the chance to write about another one – I got that same sense when I finished writing up the Boetticher/Scott pictures too – so I kept putting it off. Anyway, there it is. These films are among the finest the western genre has to offer – maybe I won’t be writing about them again but I’ll surely enjoy watching them, and I wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone who has yet to experience them.

Winchester ’73

The Naked Spur

The Man from Laramie

Bend of the River

 

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73 Comments

Posted by on June 7, 2014 in 1950s, Anthony Mann, James Stewart, Westerns

 

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73 responses to “The Far Country

  1. Cavershamragu

    June 7, 2014 at 8:08 am

    Well, I agree with you Colin, in the sense I too have tended to consider it my least favourite of the films they made together – that it is a superior example of the genre is I think well worth pointing out, and certainly better than, say, the non-Western STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND (but I’ve bashed that one in the past, so shall cease and desist). And great to be reminded of John McIntire in villainous mode as I’ve watching a lot of him in saintly hero mode of late on THE NAKED CITY – thanks chum, great stuff, as always.

     
    • Colin

      June 7, 2014 at 8:27 am

      Oh yes, Strategic Air Command is a pretty dull affair, not a film I feel the urge to revisit any time soon.

      And McIntire is terrific in nearly everything I’ve seen him in – he could play hero or villain with ease – he has a very good role in John Sturges’ Backlash too.

       
      • Cavershamragu

        June 7, 2014 at 10:04 am

        Which I have yet to see – quite tempted by the new BD, though it’s not out yet, is it? Never saw him in the WAGON TRAIN series when he replaced Ward Bond, did you?

         
        • Colin

          June 7, 2014 at 2:26 pm

          Backlash is an interesting movie and it’s beautifully shot. The Blu-ray does seem to be available in Germany right now here – I may pick it up in the future.

          And no, I’ve never seen any of McIntire’s Wagon Train episodes either. In fact, it’s a series I’ve seen very little of all told.

           
  2. Prashant C. Trikannad

    June 7, 2014 at 8:18 am

    Thanks for this review, Colin. I think I’ve only ever seen two westerns by James Stewart and no prizes for guessing which ones—”How the West Was Won” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Vance.” I have heard much about this film and will try and see it along with the westerns that I have recently got into the habit of watching again on YouTube. I also want to see “Cheyenne Autumn” where he plays Wyatt Earp, as part of my plan to see as many Wyatt Earp films as possible. I thought you might have reviewed the film earlier and just read your piece written back in 2008. I didn’t know Earp got only twenty minutes in the movie.

     
    • Colin

      June 7, 2014 at 8:33 am

      Then you have lots of great stuff ahead of you there, Prashant. I envy you in some ways.
      The westerns Stewart made with Mann are the cream of the crop of course and I can’t praise them highly enough, but there are many other good ones – Delmer Daves’ Broken Arrow is a quality picture, for example.

      Stewart’s appearance and his part as Wyatt Earp in Cheyenne Autumn is a real oddity. It’s like a scene parachuted in from another movie, but it works for some.

       
  3. Chris

    June 7, 2014 at 8:23 am

    Mate, that last para made me sad for you! I know that feeling, there are certain directors whose work I love that I find myself, at a certain point, purposely putting off watching their last few films I have yet to see. “There’s still one more Kubrick I haven’t watched!”, feels much better than, “That’s it, no more”.
    Anyway, for what it’s worth I too consider The Far Country the weakest of the Mann/Stewart collaborations. It is perhaps the most visually splendid of the group, and as you’ve stated so well, does have plenty to offer… I think it’s that ending that leaves a bit of a bad aftertaste.
    I’ll say no more. You managed to avoid spoiling it so I’ll just leave it at that!
    Cheers
    Chris B

     
    • Colin

      June 7, 2014 at 8:42 am

      Thanks, Chris. I feel better about the film than I once did. I no longer think of it in terms of strength or weakness in relation to Stewart’s other westerns with Mann, and just view it as a slight variation on the themes of the other movies.

      With these films it wasn’t so much a case of putting off viewing the “last” one as I’d already seen them all so many times, before I even became aware of their place in the western canon. Still and all, there was a sense of finality about jotting down my thoughts on this one. Anyway, enough of the melancholy stuff, there are plenty more films to watch, write about and discuss in the future.

       
  4. Mike

    June 7, 2014 at 9:57 am

    Lovely review Colin. I completely agree the Mann-Stewart Westerns are fantastic, and it was a real treat and privilege when watching them for the first time. This title isn’t my favourite of the bunch, but all the elements that make these films great are quite apparent and much of the photography is just gorgeous.

     
    • Colin

      June 7, 2014 at 2:20 pm

      Cheers, Mike. Back to the question of favorites again, but it is something that’s hard to avoid. A number of people do seem to like this one a little less than the others. I think it must be due to the slight alteration in tone and theme as the performances, direction and photography can’t really be faulted.

       
  5. Jerry Entract

    June 7, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    Great review, Colin, completing your coverage of what, for me, is a series of westerns that stand among the tallest in the genre. I go against the general grain though as I rate “The Far Country” as one of the finest of the series. It bowled me over the first time I saw it at the cinema (about 40 years ago) and I have never felt a need to revise that opinion. And what a fabulous cast! Any time I see that John McIntire is in something I know his performance will be a class act.
    He continued in films after 1960 though less so as he had his hands full starring in “Wagon Train” 1960-65 and then again in “The Virginian” 1967-70. As usual he brought much to both those TV series.

     
    • Colin

      June 7, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      Thank you, Jerry.

      At last, someone defends the movie! Personally, I find my opinions drift to some extent and I enjoy revisiting films that didn’t quite hit the mark for me first time round. Sometimes that opinion remains the same, but often subsequent viewings (and maybe discussions of their strengths & weaknesses) see me shifting my position. That’s certainly what happened with The Far Country.

       
  6. Dafydd Jones

    June 7, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    Put me down as another staunch defender of “The Far Country”! I’ve never really placed the Mann/Stewart Westerns in competition with each other. They all hit the mark for me. This was definitely one of McIntire’s finest performances. I’m currently watching the seventh season of “The Virginian” and even in that, when he’s standing in his doorway at Shiloh ranch, smiling and waving benignly at a departing guest, I still hear his voice somewhere in my head shouting “I’ll hang you when you come back Jeff!” :) Great review as always Colin, apart from the shameful misspelling of the word “colour” !! :)

     
    • Colin

      June 7, 2014 at 7:58 pm

      Hi there, Dafydd. Viewing the films as competing entities is really a mug’s game when you get right down to it. I’ve come to appreciate them all for what they are but couldn’t help reflecting on my reasons for not valuing The Far Country as highly in the past.
      And yes, McIntire’s threatening refrain is a wonderful piece of malicious humor.
      Apologies for the spelling there, but there are two reasons. Firstly, my laptop is set up to default to US spelling. And secondly, having spent 16+ years teaching American English, it’s become almost second nature to me now.
      Anyway, that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it! :)

       
  7. Dafydd Jones

    June 7, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    We’ll say no more about it Colin…. :)

     
    • Colin

      June 7, 2014 at 8:08 pm

      Probably best; those excuses I offered are thin enough to spit through! :)

       
  8. mikestakeonthemovies

    June 7, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    I for one have always liked the setting/location for this one. Bang on too about John McIntire. As you know I love the character actors and he was always a pleasure to see on a cast list. Bit of trivia…..McIntire took the role of “grandpa” in Clint Eastwood’s Honkytonk Man after Jimmy Stewart wasn’t up to it. He fit the role just fine.

     
    • Colin

      June 8, 2014 at 12:36 am

      Yeah, me too. I reckon it’s impossible to overstate the contribution character actors made to these movies – it’s natural enough that we tend to focus on the headline stars but it’s those character parts that flesh the films out and help make them such a pleasure to revisit.
      Thanks for the bit of trivia too. That’s news to me and it’s nice to think of both Stewart and McIntire being up for the same role late in their careers.

       
  9. Jeff Flugel

    June 7, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    While I understand your hesitation to put a full stop on your writings about the Mann/Stewart westerns, I enjoyed reading your reappraisal of THE FAR COUNTRY a lot, Colin! I think it’s ultimately best way to look these films, as you suggest, as individuals and not compare them against the other as we film fans tend to do by some kind of subconscious reflex. THE FAR COUNTRY is perhaps less deep thematically than some of the others but offers other rewards, and (here we go again) would fall somewhere in the middle of the pack for me. But as you say, they’re all pretty great and certainly rank as a remarkably strong body of work in the genre. Stewart’s in fine, prickly form here, and his exchanges with tomboy Corinne Calvet are quite amusing. And I’ll echo Sergio in praise of the film’s outdoor cinematography…it’s one good looking film.

     
    • Colin

      June 8, 2014 at 12:46 am

      Thanks, Jeff. It’s tough to get away from drawing some kind of comparison, isn’t it? I guess it goes with the territory if you’re a film fan and it’s pretty harmless so long as we don’t end up overpraising some works or, conversely, denigrating others in order to justify a theory we’ve formed. Maybe those directors we find it easiest to pin the auteur label on are most susceptible? After all, we tend to analyze the themes in their films in greater depth.

      Ah, and I agree the scenes with Corinne Calvet are terrific fun.

       
  10. kristina

    June 7, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    The Mann/Stewarts all seem magical to me, I ate them all up one after another at a formative time and so they became defining movies for my taste in westerns. And always such satisfying viewing. That gorgeous look just bowled me over, and it’s on full display in this one. Great reading as always and going back now to re-read more of the previous ones.

     
    • Colin

      June 8, 2014 at 12:56 am

      Thank you. Satisfying is a good word to describe these films as there’s so much going on both on the surface and within the subtext that you’re always aware of watching a quality piece of work. I guess I first saw all of these when I was quite young too and they did stick in my mind, probably for the visual splendor as much as anything – the deeper themes would have gone right over my head at that point.

       
  11. chrisk

    June 8, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    I fell asleep when I first saw it ! Now that you have reviewed it, will look at it again. I also enjoyed Backlash. Best regards.

     
    • Colin

      June 8, 2014 at 12:33 pm

      Oh dear! In that case, you definitely need to return to the film – there’s much to enjoy in it.

       
  12. Blake Lucas

    June 8, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    I never thought it was least of the five Mann/Stewart Westerns, but like others here I don’t want to put them against each other. I could say how I rank them–but it’s not that meaningful because each one has its own virtues and character and when you’ve seen all of them over and over throughout your life with undiminshed pleasure and still thinking about them, well, how great do they need to be when they each sustain one’s attention that way?

    I will say that without necessarily being the most deeply dramatic of the heroines, I do kind of like Corinne Calvet best. She’s so charming and funny–dressing her down makes her sexier to me. What can I say?–I just enjoy her.

     
    • Colin

      June 8, 2014 at 11:53 pm

      Yes, this is essentially the position I’ve worked round to myself. These films really ought to be taken on their own terms and not measured against each other to decide on their relative worth. Obviously, some will resonate more deeply with different people for a whole range of reasons, that’s only natural. As such, we’re all going to have our favorites to some extent and I think that’s maybe a better way of approaching them.

      I like Corinne Calvet a lot in the movie too. For me, her lack of sophistication is quite charming, and I feel it plays a part in shaping the development of the Stewart character too. Calvet’s directness and simple acceptance of the necessity of helping others makes her more civilized and humane than the worldly Roman. She’s certainly not the only reason for Stewart’s change of heart and subsequent renewal, but she does contribute to it.

       
  13. Laura

    June 9, 2014 at 1:17 am

    Colin, I really enjoyed your post and I completely understand what you wrote about waiting to write about the very last one. In fact I wrote a little in comments to my own FAR COUNTRY post about putting off seeing much-anticipated films in my collection…for instance, I still have 3 films left to see for the first time with Deanna Durbin, and I admit I’ve put it off because I’m sad at the eventual prospect of no more “new” Deanna Durbin films! I think one can only try to explain this among certain other film fans, but we get it. :)

    I think the lack of sustained intensity is one reason I liked it so much — it felt like my other longtime Mann-Stewart favorite, BEND OF THE RIVER, in that regard. There are some very deep, dark moments in both films (“You’ll be seeing me!”) but it’s not one long dark piece like, say, THE NAKED SPUR. My new favorite, WINCHESTER ’73, is also a little more like BEND OF THE RIVER and THE FAR COUNTRY for me…there’s pauses which provide an emotional respite in between the heavy stuff.

    I also really liked the “you are there” feeling of THE FAR COUNTRY — the cinematography of some films just has an extra magic where you can almost feel what it was like if you’d been standing right there next to the camera.

    The one drawback for me in THE FAR COUNTRY is that Corinne Calvet didn’t really make much of an impression, but then I’m not a fan of the tomboy look so that doubtless had something to do with it.

    I think I might be the only person I know who really liked STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND, LOL. I saw it as a military “procedural” and really enjoyed learning about the SAC, the beautiful aerial photography, and Frank Lovejoy. For me it was a wonderful window into the 1950s.

    Best wishes,
    Laura

     
    • Colin

      June 9, 2014 at 2:13 am

      Thanks for that, Laura. Yes, I think most film fans, especially fans of old movies which are by definition finite, understand the desire to postpone viewings or, in this case, write-ups. None of the Mann & Stewart westerns were new to me (I’ve seen them all countless times now) but just featuring them here and analyzing them made them feel fresher again. The flip side to this of course is that when we’re talking about quality movies, they do reward multiple viewings and offer new things again and again.

      I like how you point out that the aspects some may regard as negative can actually be viewed as positive attributes. It kind of highlights the benefit of stepping back a little and adopting a more objective approach.

      As far as Strategic Air Command is concerned, I think you might well be in a club with limited membership there. Bearing in mind what I wrote just before, I guess I should really look again to see if I can get something from it. I may do at some point, but I’m in no hurry. :)

       
  14. Laura

    June 9, 2014 at 2:35 am

    I hope you’ll take another look at STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND at some point down the road, Colin. As a matter of fact I just revisited Mann & Stewart’s THUNDER BAY myself a few days ago. It had left me completely unimpressed and rather bored when I first saw it a few years ago but comments by people such as Blake, plus my growing fondness for Dan Duryea and my appreciation of all the other Mann films prompted me to go back to it again. I must say I got a lot more out of THUNDER BAY this time, although I still had problems with some aspects (the Stewart-Dru romance seems very underdeveloped and unbelievable for me). I’d caught up with seeing all the Mann-Stewart films in the intervening years since first seeing THUNDER BAY, plus admired Duryea in several films, and it’s interesting how watching something with a different context can make it “look” a little different. But then, just as you say above, that’s one of the great things about a lot of movies, how we can see something new on repeat viewings.

    If you’d like to look at what I wrote on STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND either before or after your next viewing, here it is:

    http://laurasmiscmusings.blogspot.com/2012/01/tonights-movie-strategic-air-command.html

    I spent a lot of time studying the Cold War era in college so that was another angle that interested me. I’d love to know if I’m the only one in the SAC fan club, LOL.

    Best wishes,
    Laura

     
    • Colin

      June 9, 2014 at 2:46 am

      Now, as it happens, I like Thunder Bay quite a bit. In fact, it’s a movie I’ll probably write something about at some point. I wouldn’t rate it as high as the westerns but it’s still a good movie to my mind.

      I’m going to take a look at your article on Strategic Air Command and bookmark it for reference if I do decide to give the movie another spin.

      And while we’re at it, anyone who cares to read Laura’s take on The Far Country can do so here.

       
      • Laura

        June 10, 2014 at 1:43 am

        Thanks very much for sharing the link, Colin!

        Best wishes,
        Laura

         
        • Colin

          June 10, 2014 at 7:25 am

          My pleasure, Laura!

           
  15. john k

    June 9, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    “There really is no such thing as a lesser Mann/Stewart Western”

    How very true

    “The FAR COUNTRY is due for a Blu Ray upgrade by now”

    I would have thought at least, WINCHESTER 73 would have made its Blu-Ray debut by now.
    The suits at Universal however think we need a Blu-Ray of KING KONG ESCAPES more than any of the three Mann/Stewart Westerns Universal released. Never knew until recently on a Bob Furmanek thread over at Toby’s that THE FAR COUNTRY was in fact made in widescreen 1.75, I believe. I have the USA 4×3 DVD and wish that I’d waited for the widescreen UK release. Now I’ll hang on for the Blu Ray,whenever that may be which I am sure will be widescreen.
    As for the film, I like it fine and I know that I am very isolated in this opinion, but I actually prefer it to THE NAKED SPUR.

     
    • Colin

      June 9, 2014 at 12:35 pm

      Hi, John. I imagine all these titles will find their way to Blu-ray sooner or later, and I shouldn’t be surprised if they appear in Europe first.

      I have no idea why The Far Country was initially released on DVD in 4:3 format – I had that old US disc myself at one point – as the widescreen ratio just looks right.

      I think I’ve said before that The Naked Spur is my own favorite among the Mann & Stewart westerns. It has a relentless quality, and I love its terseness and economy. And of course there’s that powerful, cathartic ending.

       
  16. Jerry Entract

    June 9, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    Great to have diverse opinion on these masterpieces. May I add my own thought, for what it’s worth? “The Naked Spur” is my least favourite of the group, maybe for the very reasons that make it Colin’s favourite! Be boring if we all felt the same though. Actually though, they are all fantastic films and really do not need to be compared to each other, as others have already said.

     
    • Colin

      June 9, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      Jerry, I think the films offer so much to us when taken as a body of work and the variations in tone are worth celebrating.
      The chat here just proves to me how all those different elements mean we all have our own favorites and get pleasure from the diverse aspects and styles.

       
      • Jerry Entract

        June 9, 2014 at 4:13 pm

        Absolutely, Colin!

         
  17. Garry Armstrong

    June 9, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Terrific post on “The Far Country”. I’m old enough to have seen all the Stewart/Mann westerns as a youngster at movie theaters. That was a special treat, seeing all these guys — bigger than life — up there on the screen. Even as an adolescent, I knew there was something different about these westerns. Over the years, I’ve never tired of them. Just appreciate them more and more. I just watched “Winchester 73″ again the other day. When Jimmy Stewart confronts Dan Duryea near the end, we really get a glimpse of Stewart’s dark side. Gets me every time. Good stuff! Thank you!!!!

     
    • Colin

      June 9, 2014 at 2:59 pm

      And thank you, Garry.
      I have to admit I’m quite envious of guys like yourself who got the chance to see these movies on the big screen back then – the way they were meant to be experienced.
      It honestly is the mark of good movies when familiarity and revisits enrich them, isn’t it? Any film you can return to repeatedly and get as much or even more pleasure from is rather special.

       
  18. Bruce Lander

    June 9, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    One of the interesting things about this Film is it’s loose connection with the novel “Alder Gulch / No Law and Order” by Ernest Haycox. about the crooked lawman Henry Plummer in the Montana Gold rush of 1863. I recall seeing somewhere that UI/Borden Chase had purchased the film rights to this book however not withstanding its heavy similarity to the book ( even some of the character names are the same) it receives no credit

     
    • Colin

      June 9, 2014 at 6:39 pm

      That’s news to me, Bruce. Thanks for sharing that info – I’m off to see if I can track down a copy of the novel.

       
  19. Andrew

    June 10, 2014 at 6:21 am

    Great review Colin. I admit that Far Country is not my favorite Mann/Stewart western, but it is still a fine movie. I like your observation that Stewart’s character is more unlikeable in this film, than his other collaborations with Mann, which probably explains my limited enthusiasm for the movie.

     
    • Colin

      June 10, 2014 at 7:24 am

      Thanks for that, Andrew. It’s an odd yet interesting characterization from Stewart this time. There’s plenty of affability and quipping, but it’s superficial stuff really. His initial behavior following the avalanche, and then when he takes the herd to Dawson is based on naked self interest. That same attitude remains with him for much of his time in Dawson and you do sense he’s riding for a fall.

       
  20. Dan Heaton

    June 10, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    I watched all the Mann/Stewart Westerns four years ago, and I was stunned by how great they are. The Far Country has stuck with me the least, though it’s still very strong like you mention. I agree that we don’t get as clear a sense about why Webster is so tormented, though Stewart sells it. I’ll have to check out the other Mann/Stewart reviews. The Naked Spur is my favorite, but they’re all worth considering.

     
    • Colin

      June 10, 2014 at 6:16 pm

      Hi, Dan. Yes, unlike the other Mann & Stewart westerns, the back story for Stewart’s character isn’t as fully developed. Stewart himself gives his usual fine performance but there are only vague hints as to why he holds himself and his interests apart from others. He remains a bit more of an enigma than is the case with the other movies.
      Thanks for the comment, and feel free to add your thoughts on any of the other movies.

       
  21. Richard--W

    June 11, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    Glad you took another look at The Far Country, Colin. Your Mann-Stewart reviews are a highlight of the blog so far as I’m concerned. I agree that an Anthony Mann western always rewards repeated viewings. He took the camera way out there, to isolated areas and National Parks that had never been filmed before. I like how the film opens at the lake on the Universal backlot at precisely the same spot where Hitchcock shot The Birds, before the street was paved. The background is a matte over a cyclerama at the far end of the lake. It’s still there, still in use, and so is the street. The river boat had been used in many Universal films. Regarding Stewart, I remember watching a TV interview in which the host commented that no matter what role he plays, he’s always James Stewart. Stewart didn’t like that. “I’m Jimmy Stewart in deference to the character” he replied. I see the difference in all the characters he played for Mann, but no matter how ambivalent or conflicted the character, the actor’s inner decency shines through. Spending a couple of hours with a James Stewart western is always a pleasure.

    Anthony Mann and James Stewart fans will want to add Twilight Time’s new blu-ray of The Man From Laramie (Columbia, 1955) to their library. The edition is limited to 3,000 copies, and it started selling briskly yesterday. Get yours’ while supplies last:

    http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/27153/THE-MAN-FROM-LARAMIE-1955/

     
    • Colin

      June 11, 2014 at 6:32 pm

      Thanks very much, Richard. I’ve very much enjoyed writing about these movies over the years – that’s why I mentioned feeling a touch of sadness at finishing off the last one.

      I’m glad you mentioned the boat as it’s something I had in mind to comment on and then neglected to do so. I was pretty sure it was the same one I’d seen in other Universal pictures of the era, so it’s nice to see you point that out.

      I can see what that interviewer was trying (not all that successfully) to say – Stewart’s characters were certainly not the same but, as you say yourself, there was a fundamental decency at the core regardless of the dark places he explored.

       
  22. Richard--W

    June 11, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    Since posting this morning, the blu-ray of THE MAN FROM LARAMIE arrived in this afternoon’s mail. All I can say is: Buy It Now. It’s as if a sheet of wax paper had been removed from the film. It’s a stunning transfer, sharp, resolute, deep, full of texture, film-like, with a perfect black level and immaculate color. A reference quality transfer. No one does finer restorations than Grover Crisp at Columbia. If you haven’t watched the blu-ray of THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, I’m tempted to say you haven’t seen the film at all.

     
    • Colin

      June 11, 2014 at 11:14 pm

      Sounds great, Richard. I’d be amazed if Sony don’t release the Blu-ray themselves in Europe though – so I plan to hang on a bit.

       
  23. john k

    June 13, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Colin – I don’t want to rain on your parade,but you may have a VERY long wait before the Blu of THE MAN FROM LARAMIE appears elsewhere. As you know the major studios (apart from Warners) prefer to lease their vintage films to smaller distributors. Most of the Euro releases from Fox, MGM/UA, Universal and others are supplied by a UK based company called Hollywood Classics, who supply the masters to companies like Sidonis, Koch, Arrow, Explosive, Shock Media and so on. It does however look as if Koch have struck a direct deal with Universal recently. Sadly, there is very little Columbia/Sony product in the Hollywood Classics portfolio; hopefully this might change.
    I was hoping the Blu-rays of 3:10 TO YUMA and JUBAL would surface in Europe and those two were released some time ago, by Twilight Time.
    I consider WINCHESTER ’73 and THE MAN FROM LARAMIE to be Mann’s masterworks and the latter title is a film that was “made” for Blu-ray, if ever there was one.
    Richard W if you are out there, your “heads up” on the LARAMIE Blu has turned me 40 shades of green with envy!

     
    • Colin

      June 13, 2014 at 1:15 pm

      John, you may well right that we’re in for an extended wait, but I’ve grown used to playing the long game now where movie releases are concerned. Still, sooner rather than later would be good.

      Oh, a minor correction – The Blu-rays of 3:10 to Yuma and Jubal came out via Criterion, not Twilight Time.

       
    • Colin

      June 15, 2014 at 8:06 pm

      John, if you happen to be out there, I see Blu-ray.com have reviewed the new release of The Man from Laramie and have put up some screenshots here – most impressive looking.

       
      • john k

        June 16, 2014 at 1:57 pm

        Thanks for that Colin, as you say they look great. I normally don’t look at Blu Ray.com as much as I should and always check out these screen caps on DVD Beaver.
        Oddly enough and way off topic I am amazed that there has been no internet “buzz” about the forthcoming Aussie Blu-ray of Hammers HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. I always thought that this was one of the most beautiful looking of all Hammer films and one that should look sensational on Blu-ray. I love vintage Hammer films and thought Cushing was a wonderful Holmes and was very saddened that Hammer never made more Holmes films. The film is up for pre-order on ezydvd. Interestingly the Aussies also have Huston’s MOBY DICK due out on Blu-ray as well.

         
        • Colin

          June 16, 2014 at 3:57 pm

          I quite agree that The Hound of the Baskervilles is a terrific looking Hammer film, one of their most handsome indeed. I think people are being a little more cautious now since so many Hammer Blu-ray releases have displayed various issues. I’d certainly be interested though if it turns out fine.

          On the subject of Australian Blu-rays, I plan to pick up the new release of Wilder’s Witness for the Prosecution quite soon. And also maybe of interest is the news that Roy Ward Baker’s excellent wilderness noir Inferno is coming out in the UK on Blu-ray. The releasing company, who apparently specialize mainly in documentaries, is Panamint and the listing is on their site here.

           
          • john k

            June 17, 2014 at 1:19 pm

            Thanks for the link Colin, Panamint are a new one on me,and another company to check out for new releases. I like your term “wilderness noir”
            INFERNO is an excellent film and should look great on Blu-Ray; I saw it in 3D a few years back at the NFT but having said that it’s a 3D film that plays very well flat.

             
            • Colin

              June 17, 2014 at 1:35 pm

              Yes, Inferno is a very good movie. I have the Spanish DVD and wrote about the film in the past here but would certainly consider upgrading to Blu-ray.

               
  24. Clayton @ Phantom Empires

    June 14, 2014 at 1:06 am

    I’m a Stewart/western fan, no matter how I can get them! So many times people ignore the fact that Jimmy could be an excellent hardass, in favour of his nearly-mythological ‘everyman’ side (which Tom Hanks has been trying to co-opt for 30 years). For my money, he’s meaner and leaner than any five top cowboy actors combined. :) Lots of film fans don’t know about his radio cowboy, Britt Ponsett, the Six Shooter…what a great actor.

    A great selection, as usual, and an interesting write-up. Thanks.

     
    • Colin

      June 14, 2014 at 5:08 am

      Thank you, Clayton. The “aw, shucks” aspect of the Stewart persona does seem to be the one lots of people think of first. The more layered and complex side is most evident in his westerns (particularly for Mann) and his work with Hitchcock, and perhaps this partly explains it. If you weren’t a western fan – and it should be remembered his Hitchcock movies were out of circulation for many years – then this could easily pass you by. And of course comedians/impressionists tended to latch onto the folksy stuff too.

      I’ll have to confess I’m not at all familiar with the radio work myself but it seems to be available here.

       
      • Clayton @ Phantom Empires

        June 14, 2014 at 9:42 pm

        I’m going to have to look at the Mann aspect of those movies; I tend to shy away from what often becomes blind director worship, but I think this is something I’d like to think about. This particular combo is interesting, given that film list…THE FAR COUNTRY and BEND OF THE RIVER are not only two of my fave westerns, thy also rank up with some of my favourite movies, period.

        If you listen to those SIX SHOOTER episodes, let me know what you think! Stalking Moon Jeff and I have been fans since we were kids back in the ol’ home town. You might also check out LUKE SLAUGHTER OF TOMBSTONE on archive.org as well…it’s terrific!

         
        • Colin

          June 14, 2014 at 10:22 pm

          Yes, there is sometimes a temptation to oversell some directors. However, in the case of Anthony Mann, I think he had a remarkably high strike rate. Of course I can only speak for myself but his less successful movies are very much in the minority. Even early studio assignments like Two O’Clock Courage, for example, have points of interest and show the beginnings of his style developing. Billy Wilder would be another director I feel achieved a similar level of consistency in terms of producing entertaining and high quality movies.

          Again, Luke Slaughter of Tombstone is new to me. I’ll try to check out some of the episodes, which I see are also available on this site.

           
  25. john k

    June 14, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    This Clayton/Phantom Empire site looks like my kinda place that I want to be. Never came across it before, so thanks for the link Colin, when I have more time I will investigate further.
    I too, like Clayton, want a widescreen copy of THE CANADIANS like poison, I did see it in cinemas at the time and remember it as being a stunningly beautiful film. Sadly, with the Fox Archives track record, if it does surface at all it will be 4×3 pan & scan.

    Anyway, back to Mr.Stewart, a pal kindly loaned me a copy of his Blu-ray of TWO RODE TOGETHER and it’s a stunner! Film has divided opinion with Ford fans over the years, but the Stewart/Widmark team is pretty hard to beat. Nothing in the film tops the sublime opening scene which is a parody of MY DARLING CLEMENTINE but the rest is pretty darn good, faults and all. Had this film not been directed by Ford it would probably be far more highly regarded. At any rate the Blu-ray is indeed a joy to behold.

     
    • Colin

      June 14, 2014 at 2:00 pm

      Yes, Clayton has a fine site going there and I’m sure you’ll find plenty to enjoy when you have the time to explore a bit more.

      I’d say you’re not far off the mark as far as Two Rode Together is concerned. I wrote about it myself some time back here, and I came to much the same conclusions as you did – namely that we probably hold it up to greater scrutiny due to the fact it’s a Ford picture. It has its faults for sure but it’s not actually a bad movie.

       
  26. john k

    June 14, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Thanks Colin.
    As far as cyberspace goes I pretty much stick with yourself, Laura and Toby. It’s great that you guys give links to lots of other interesting stuff, and you know me, anything with a penchant for B Movies is going to be right up my street. Got a great link from Laura recently Where Danger Lives, which I now wish that I discovered sooner. The trouble with all this it continues to send one on missions to seek out all this obscure stuff.The WDL Republic B Crime/Noir “artwork special has prompted me to track down many of these obscure Bs and I’m really enjoying what I find…..where does it all end?
    Oddly enough even I am not old enough to have seen many of these little gems first time around. Really, my searches are generally concerned with Noir and Westerns and it’s amazing how much obscure things there are out there. Comedies (Preston Sturges excepted) and Musicals are not really my thing so it does narrow down things somewhat but having said that it’s a full time job keeping track of the stuff that I really like. With B Crime/Noirs there is
    just so many unheralded titles out there waiting rediscovery the likes of Republic and Monogram made so many of these things and most of them at the very least are of interest and some very good indeed.

     
    • Colin

      June 14, 2014 at 2:44 pm

      John, it’s always a pleasure if I’m able to point someone towards a rewarding site, and I’d say Clayton’s place certainly fits the bill there.
      And I’m familiar with the Where Danger Lives site – it’s really very good. As you say, there are so many movies around that it’s hard to keep tabs on them all. It’s great that there are people out there both keeping interest alive in lesser known movies and introducing new viewers to them.

       
    • Laura

      June 15, 2014 at 1:15 am

      John, thanks, as always, for the kind words, and I’m so glad I could point you in the direction of Mark’s fine site Where Danger Lives. The posters he shares are fantastic, and you’ll find many interesting noir reviews in his archives.

      Best wishes,
      Laura

       
  27. Bruce Lander

    June 17, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    I recalled where I saw the reference to the connection between “The Far Country” and “Alder Gulch”, it was here (see below) on IMDb.

    The Haycox stories optioned but never produced include his novel “Alder Gulch” (which was to have been filmed in 1953, as another Anthony Mann-James Stewart-Borden Chase collaboration); and his novel “Border Trumpet,” which was adapted by Louis S. Peterson in 1956 for Figaro Productions but never filmed.

    The similarity between the Film and book are so obvious, I wonder what happened ?

     
    • Colin

      June 17, 2014 at 6:35 pm

      Bruce, after you mentioned the Haycox novel and the similarities between it and the movie I put in an order for a used copy of the book. It’s on its way to me now and I look forward to reading it and seeing how close they are. Thanks for drawing my attention to this.

       
  28. Bruce H.

    June 26, 2014 at 4:22 am

    There are many great pleasures in your website, Colin, but one of the greatest has to be reading the comments on your reviews and seeing how many people out there love what I love. So many Mann/Stewart fans in the world, whereas in my personal circle of the world I’m the only one who even knows about them….except my daughter, who I’ve been slowly educating for several years about great old westerns, and my 3 year-old son, who was saying “John Wayne” before his own name.

    Anyway, an excellent, well-thought-out review and I’m gratified you got around to “The Far Country” on your website; as you say, it’s no use comparing these five westerns, they all have greatness within them. It’s always been one of my favorites, the locations just can’t be beat and as everyone mentions, John McIntyre is simply one of the most enjoyable villains in the whole western genre. He was great in his small part in “Winchester ’73,” too. An evil man who genuinely enjoys being evil. Some parts are a bit hokey—-Corrine Calvet is at best miscast and at worst apparent jailbait for Stewart, and left unexplained is exactly how 6’3″ James Stewart could “hide” in tiny Ruth Roman’s bed and not be spotted by the men searching for him—-but it’s all part of the fun. Thanks for the review, and thanks too for the review of “Tribute to a Bad Man,” I’ve never heard of it but it sounds great, I’m going to search it out.

     
    • Colin

      June 26, 2014 at 7:41 am

      Well, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most has been the realization that I’m not the only one who likes these films – like yourself, my day-to-day experience suggested I was essentially on my own on that score. The fact others share this love for cinema, and are keen to comment on and discuss it, has played a major part in ensuring I keep this place going.

      I guess there are aspects that don’t make complete sense in this movie. Then again, I feel that’s the case with many films, and the beauty of it is that it doesn’t really matter. Taken as a whole, it not only works but gels perfectly – which is as compelling a piece of evidence as any of a great movie.

      BTW, I hope you get to see Tribute to a Bad Man – I’d love to think I managed to turn a few people on to its worth.

       
  29. Glen

    August 21, 2014 at 12:55 am

    The movie’s locations look grand, and Stewart and Brennan are always good, but I’m not a fan of this film. It represents to me some of the worst of Classic Hollywood hubris.

    Where’s the location for the movie’s cowboy gunfights, and having a warlord running the city just like the old west … Tombstone? Deadwood? Nope the Canadian arctic.

    In what universe would Canadian citizens living under British jurisprudence elect a US-style marshal complete with tin star to be the law in town? Or would the Mounted Police tell the citizenry to elect a marshal then vanish? The truth was that the Mounted Police were in the Yukon in large numbers all during the Yukon gold rush and enforced the law strictly and efficiently. Their presence in the Yukon was so pervasive that historian Pierre Berton described their governance as a near police state. There were no gunfights, it was illegal to carry a six gun and the law was strictly enforced.

    In his book, Hollywood’s Canada, Berton writes he was contacted by phone by the movie’s production staff while filming the movie, God knows why in retrospect. I’ll paraphrase the conversation: Producer: So during the gold rush there was lots of crime and murders in Dawson City? Berton: No, none.

    It’s romantic and a departure from the run of the mill western to set this movie in Canada I suppose, but c’mon this script really stinks.

     
    • Colin

      August 21, 2014 at 1:11 am

      Thanks for the feedback, that’s very informative, Glen. I’ll confess I’m not knowledgeable of Canadian history so it’s interesting to learn how law enforcement operated at the time.
      Having said that, I don’t feel the lack of historical accuracy damages the movie particularly. From a historian’s point of view, it may jar to see such liberties taken but, as far as I’m concerned anyway, this doesn’t weaken the film. I don’t believe for a moment that The Far Country</em ever set out to represent itself as a historical document – it’s a drama and, as such, I’m prepared to grant it dramatic or artistic license. Many classic era westerns contained historical falsehoods and I can overlook these, or at least look beyond them, as long as the script has its own internal integrity and logic.

       
  30. Glen

    August 21, 2014 at 5:54 am

    Hey Colin, thanks for the reply.

    You’re willing to grant the film to have artistic license to have gunfighters with six guns shooting it out on the streets of Canadian city? And Canadians electing a town marshal with a tin star?

    OK. Well I’ve made my point I won’t belabor it any further.

    Best regards.

     
    • Colin

      August 21, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      I understand your point, Glen. I think your coming at this from a historian’s perspective and are more troubled by the inaccuracies or liberties you mention. For myself, I never look to westerns, or films for that matter, as sources of historical truth. First and foremost, I see them as dramas and therefore I’m concerned with how successfully they involve viewers in the drama and achieve their dramatic aims. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

       

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