FAR COUNTRY, THE (director: Anthony Mann; screenwriter: from the story by Borden Chase/Borden Chase; cinematographer: William H. Daniels; editor: Russell F. Schoengarth; music: Henry Mancini; cast: James Stewart (Jeff Webster), Walter Brennan (Ben Tatum), Ruth Roman (Ronda Castle), Corinne Calvet (Renee Vallon), John McIntire (Gannon), Jay C. Flippen (Rube), Harry Morgan (Ketchum), Steve Brodie (Ives), Connie Gilchrist (Hommy), Royal Dano (Luke), Jack Elam (Newberry), Kathleen Freeman (Grits); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Aaron Rosenberg; Universal-international; 1954)
“It stars Mann’s favorite Western leading man James Stewart in an anti-hero role.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An odd psychological revenge Western from the story and script by Borden Chase. It’s directed with all the clichés intact but freshened up with a vigorous intensity by Anthony Mann (“Winchester ’73″/”Bend of the River”/”The Naked Spur”); it stars Mann’s favorite Western leading man James Stewart in an anti-hero role. The misanthropic sullen loner role Stewart plays has him saying such things as “I don’t need other people. I don’t need help. I can take care of me.” Its photography is visually spectacular, especially those stunning backdrops of the Rockies, the Columbia ice fields and the Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. Though not as powerful as the “Bend of the River,” a film it’s closest to in theme, it nevertheless is gripping and filled with rugged action sequences.
It’s set in 1896. Jeff Webster (James Stewart) and his mother-hen chattering partner Ben Tatum (Walter Brennan) dream of buying a small ranch in Utah and settling down. To do this they are driving their cattle to market from Wyoming to Seattle to Canada to take advantage of the gold-crazy boom towns there that pay top dollar for beef. When they arrive in Skagway, Alaska, to sell their cattle the corrupt affable judge/sheriff of the town Gannon (John McIntire) brings Jeff to trial for the murder of two cowboys who tried to steal his herd and the bogus trial, held in the saloon owned by the sexy Ronda Castle (Ruth Roman), ends in the acquittal of Jeff of the murder charges but Gannon steals the cattle on the excuse he was disturbing the peace. Jeff turns down a job offer to be a deputy for the venal Gannon and accepts an offer from Ronda to transport her equipment to her new saloon address in the gold rush settlement of Dawson. He does so knowing Gannon is transporting the herd stolen from on him on a nearby route. On a ruse, Jeff steals back his herd and takes them to Canada. In Dawson, Ronda outbids the other buyers to buy Jeff’s herd and her saloon business booms as a result. Jeff and his partner soon become successful as miners, but when law and order breaks down the selfish Jeff is asked to become a sheriff and clear up things but selfishly refuses. It leads to Ben being killed by Gannon’s men and their gold stolen when they try to leave town. Things come to head when the villainous claim-jumper Gannon and Jeff must confront each other.
Corinne Calvet plays the homespun, tomboyish, freckle-faced, French-Canadian lass who falls for Stewart and is up against the more tough-minded worldly woman Ruth Roman for his attention. Jay C. Flippen is Stewart’s good-natured, drunken partner, and serves as comic relief; his tragic death becomes the source of Stewart’s repentance for his selfishness.
Mann transfers his dark sided film noir characters from such films as “Desperate,” “Raw Deal” and “The Border Incident” to the Western genre, and tackles through these more shadowy visions such themes as the mythic conflict between the individual and society, between free will and anarchy, and the coming to terms of the man with a painful past with his renewed life spirit. The good versus evil theme of most Westerns at that time is thankfully given a more realistic and nuanced look. This was Mann’s last collaboration with Chase, which has a reluctant Stewart be heroic at the last second to save the town from the tyrannical doings of McIntire.
REVIEWED ON 11/5/2006 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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