The Cinema Cafe

Serving Cinema's Tastiest Treasures

Opening Up a Treasure: The Searchers


THE SEARCHERS

U.S.A. / Warner Bros. / 1956 / Technicolor / 119 Minutes / Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1

In order to fully appreciate the rich complexity of what could be a deeply emotional, perhaps life changing experience of watching this film, audience members must become "searchers" themselves. The closer one examines, and identifies with, the title characters and their quest, the richer its rewards become. This masterpiece pays off even more handsomely for those who can further assimilate the story through Director John Ford's visionary eyes. Witness the numerous stunning painterly images (Ford would say to his cameraman "that's a Lilly" when capturing those amazing shots), complex staging of the actions, realistic but engaging overlapping behaviour and dialouge, innovative cinematic storytelling techniques (most evident in "the letter" sequence), and a diverse range of highly distinctive characters and relationships, with a surprising number of naturally occurring humorous and endearing moments between them.

I say "surprising" because this is a very dark story overall. It's full of a frontier life's extreme dangers and unpleasantness: Unthinkable fear, revenge, hatred and racial intolerance. It tells of horrifically violent acts, their retributive responses, and goes even further by addressing the negative psychological effects of both. It's not shy of surprises in these areas either: We see a house full of people we've come to care for burn to the ground after an unprovoked attack by Comanches. John Wayne's Ethan Edwards interrupts an otherwise sombre funeral, twice shouting "PUT AN AMEN TO IT", just so he can get on with hunting down those who are responsible for wiping out his brother and almost all of his family. We hear the sounds of a bugler's "white knight" Cavalry (previously idolized in the same Director's She Wore a Yellow Ribbon) only to see the unnecessary massacre of Native American innocents in its wake. There's Edwards shooting out the eyes of an uncovered dead Comanche, then explaining to an indignant Reverend/Captain that the sacrilegious act may not betray any belief in the Reverend's book but, to the Indian's, will cause the spirit to blindly wander forever in the afterlife. By displaying such casual indifference, Edwards demonstrates his personal disrespect for both religions, further cementing the fact that his cold actions (unlike most of those on both sides of the conflict) will be guided by neither. Edwards attempts to conceal his shock at being shown the trophy scalps collected by his formidable nemesis: The marauding tribe's leader Scar. The anger that seethes within, which he will have to suppress, derives not only from Scar's offensive gesture, but from the fact that the distinctively blonde scalp on display belonged to his raped and murdered niece Lucy. Also worth noting in this scene is Scar justifying his violent responses by mentioning the loss of his sons. Finally there's the camera dolly (hardly ever used by the director) moving in to a close-up (also infrequently used) of Edwards' face. It's an astonishing cinematic moment, one that will forever brand the consciousness of those who truly see it. His chilling expression combining horror with determination comes after he witnesses the insanity of a few "surviving" young female white settlers rescued by soldiers from the Indians they grew up with... The same Indians who took them from their savagely murdered families.

 

John Ford and Company (including  Max Steiner who created an emotionally binding score and Winton C. Hoch's majestically photographed imagery) have given a treasure trove of revelations to take in here. Ford's prior cinematic experience includes dozens of films made before 1924's Western triumph The Iron Horse, and some of the medium's highest artistic achievements afterward, including The Lost Patrol (1934), Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), How Green Was My Valley (1941) My Darling Clementine (1946) and Fort Apache (1948). After some consideration, the wealth of powerfully engaging scenes in The Searchers is almost to be expected. However, these past experiences and accomplishments, as significant as they were, cannot completely account for the gutsy determinism on display here. Upon directing this film, Ford would become an enigmatic legend by presenting to us one of the darkest, most emotionally charged and conflicted characters ever portrayed in the history of the Western genre: Wayne's Ethan Edwards. Equal credit must be given to the actor who delivers what is easily the most layered and compelling performance in his formidable career. In scene after fascinating scene, he is alternately reviled and revered by the other characters and us. Soon after being introduced, he demonstrates his racial prejudice by making an off-handed "half breed" remark to his brother's adoptive son Martin Pawley (beautifully portrayed by Jeffery Hunter). Yet Martin will accompany him on his long and arduous search for Debbie, Pawley's sister, who will turn out to be the lone survivor of his family under siege, taken captive by Scar's tribe. Chief Scar has apparently decided that Debbie's youth, and perhaps attractiveness, were reason enough to spare her life. The search will span more than a few years. Ethan's relentless determination, (to find Debbie and settle a painful score with his arch rival), will not only compliment the Director's perspective, but will be mirrored in his adversary Scar. During the pursuit, Edwards must overcome many obstacles, including a treacherous trader, by demonstrating his resourcefulness and by committing ruthless and decisive actions.  Alternately he must be flexible, and even generous, as he is when dealing with a Mexican middle-man who will introduce Edwards to Scar and open negotiations between the two. The talks themselves advance further Edwards' willingness to adapt and act not just out of blind emotion (as other important characters will do and suffer the consequences from). They are also suggestive of Ethan's intelligence. It's this character's maturity, delivered in full by Wayne and his director Ford, that remains the primary reason this film is one of the top two Westerns of all time and one of the ten best American motion pictures ever made.  

Some criticism has been leveled at Edwards' "about face" decision upon encountering Debbie for the second time. I would suggest that these viewers haven't paid close enough attention. Although Martin gives voice to his suspicion that Ethan will respond with deadly force after finding Debbie, his uncle only exhibits signs of actually following through this way upon encountering Debbie the first time. During this first episode, Martin pleads with her to return with him, but when she unequivocally states her intention to remain with the people who raised her (the murdering Comanches) it suggests the duo's many years of trial and hardships were wasted. Ethan has seen first hand the psychotic and brutal effects of a life with one's captors. Debbie, by comparison, seems well cared for, indicating she really has become "one of them'' giving further reason for his impulsive gesture. In their second meeting, Ethan chases and struggles with her, finally carrying her up in his arms saying "Let's go home Debbie". We realize what he does: Even if he still harbours some personal resentment it's time for him to "let go". It's the only logical and practical choice he can make. This crucial moment of redemption is, as the famous French film director Jean-Luc Goddard observed, extremely poignant. I would add transcendental, being a momentous opportunity for Ethan to demonstrate the compassion residing deep within and subtly shown numerous times throughout his journey.

This final act of kindness and his safe return of Debbie to a caring and loving home will not be enough to allow Ethan to join in and comfortably enter this sanctuary himself. He's the guy who "does what's necessary". It's his raw negative aggression which fuels the unpleasant, decisive actions that "gets the job done" but there's simply no place for it in this peaceful setting. He must therefore pay the price for being what he is: An outsider. So Ethan silently stands outside the family's home, watching the others' joy at being reunited with their loved ones. Beautifully photographed from inside the house, this amazing "frame within a frame" shot begins the film as well when the door opens to reveal the backdrop of Monument Valley in all of its Vista-Vision grandeur. At the story's conclusion, Ethan stands back and smiles as Martin and his fiancee pass by, then turns and walks away into the wilderness with that customarily graceful John Wayne swagger. The door closes.          

If one simply sits back and casually observes this film, with an inattentive or superficial approach (perhaps conditioned by the plainly obvious narrative exposition we've come to expect from many modern day movies) the viewer is apt to be disappointed. They'll miss too much important exposition like the markings on the tombstone Debbie hides near during the Comanche attack.

Ford effectively communicates throughout this extraordinary film Ethan Edwards' buried internal struggle. Ethan attempts time and again to not only deal with the horrors he's witnessed, but to keep them from negatively impacting on those he cares for. Even at the story's beginning when he returns from the Civil War he's silent about them. This makes it necessary for the audience to participate in uncovering those subtle signposts of feeling along the way and help create that rich and rewarding experience its artists intended. There are in fact, so many revealing story and character developments to take in here, even a half-dozen viewings may not be enough to observe them all.

When John Ford made this film, his bold and complex maturity became like "The Grange" of fine wines. For those lucky enough to partake, The Searchers is similar to a magnificent investment opportunity: The more one gives, the more one gets in return.

A. G.

The Searchers is my Turner Classic Movies Treasure of the Month. It is scheduled to air on TCM Tuesday April 22, 11:30 p.m. P.S.T. 

Top Ten Costume Jewelery: Most Annoying Movie Characters

 

Top 10: Most Annoying Movie Characters

 

My guest contributor is young Mr. X whose first post here will hopefully not be his last.

These are in order of least annoying to most with #1 being the worst offender:

 

 

 

 

 

#10.

Willie Scott Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Willie Scott Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Instead of ingratiating her way into our hearts she irratates her way into our heads. By this point, mine looked like the monkey's.






#9.

Leo Getz Lethal Weapon 2-4

Leo Getz Lethal Weapon 2-4

"Okay"..."okay"... Okay, enough already. Somebody shoot this guy, okay?






#8.

The Gargoyles The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

The Gargoyles The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

If the message is "Don't judge by appearance" why won't they stop doing it?

 

 

 

 

 

#7.

Ruby Rhod The Fifth Element

Ruby Rhod The Fifth Element

I was hoping the first element's purpose was to shut this grating idiot up.

 

 

 

 

 

#6.

Rachel Ferrier War of the Worlds (2005)

Rachel Ferrier War of the Worlds (2005)

Hey kid, there are aliens present so would you kindly STOP SCREAMING!!! If I had been Cruise, the martians could have kept her.

 

 

 

 

 

#5.

Robin Batman Forever and Batman and Robin

Robin Batman Forever and Batman and Robin

Batman and Robin Whining Forever would have been a better title for both.

 

 

 

 

 

#4.

Wendy Torrance The Shining

Wendy Torrance The Shining

She's more horrifying than anything else in the picture. All things considered, was Jack really that out of line?

 

 

 

 

 

#3.

Anakin Skywalker Star Wars Episode 1

Anakin Skywalker Star Wars Episode 1

His acting ever so slightly improved when I had the misfortune of meeting him in person.






2.

Bella Swan Twilight Saga

Bella Swan Twilight Saga

She's just an average young girl with the added distinction of being the most self-centered cow on the planet.

 

 

 

 

 

1.

Jar Jar Binks Star Wars Prequel Trilogy

Jar Jar Binks Star Wars Prequel Trilogy

"Meesa supposed to be like Chewbaca. But Meesa can't because Meesa keeps opening Meesa's mouth, spewing nerve fraying triviality". Lucas should have "Jar jar'd" up this character and Weesa should have blasted him into outer space before his movies even started.

 

Mr. X (with an assist on the bylines by A. G.)

Sterling Silver Dialogue #12

 

Sterling Silver Dialogue From The Movies: 

Do you know where they're from? Answers coming soon.

 

"There's something about the sound of my own voice that fascinates me"

 

Veda: (regarding a gift from her mother) "The dress. It's awful cheap material. I can tell by the smell"

Kay: (Veda's sister) "What did you expect? Want it inlaid with gold?"

Veda: "Well, it seems to me, if you're buying anything, it should be the best. This is definitely not the best"

Kay: "Oh, quit. You're breakin' my heart"

Veda: "Oh it's impossible. Look at it. Ruffles. Oh I wouldn't be seen dead in this rag. It's horrible! How could she have bought me such a thing?"

 

Veda: (to her mother) "With this money I can get away from you. From you and your chickens and your pies and your kitchens and everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack with its cheap furniture. And this town and its dollar days, and its women that wear uniforms and its men that wear overalls"

Veda: (to her mother) "You think just because you made a little money you can get a new hairdo and some expensive clothes and turn yourself into a lady. But you can't, because you'll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a grocery store and whose mother took in washing. With this money I can get away from every rotten stinking thing that makes me think of this place or you!"

 

"Personally, Veda's convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young"

 

"You know I like Mexico; it's so...Mexican"

 

 

"This isn't the real Mexico, you know that. All border towns bring out the worst in a country. I can just imagine your mother's face if she could see our honeymoon hotel"

 

 

"From here on out it's Mexico Mr. Thornton"

(reply) "What's the nearest town?"

(response) "Agua Verde's the closest"

(reply) "What's in Agua Verde?"

(response) "Mexicans. What else?"

 

 

(philosophically about himself) "Mongo only pawn in game of life"

 

 

"Go home Martins, like a sensible chap. You don't know what you're mixing in, get the next plane"

Martins: "As soon as I get to the bottom of this, I'll get the next plane"

(reply) "Death's at the bottom of everything, Martins. Leave death to the professionals"

Martins: "Mind if I use that line in my next Western?"

 

"I told you to go away, Martins. This isn't Santa Fe. I'm not a sheriff and you aren't a cowboy. You've been blundering around with the worst bunch of racketeers in Vienna, your precious Harry's friends, and now you're wanted for murder"

Martins: "Put down drunk and disorderly too"

(reply) "I have"

 

"Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love. They had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock"

 

 

"I think you're a very stupid person. You look stupid, you're in a stupid business, and you're on a stupid case"

(reply) "I get it. I'm stupid"

 

"It was one of those transient motels, something between a fleabag and a dive"

 

(on being shaken by the lapels) "Now wait a minute. I've been slapped, scratched, punched, knocked unconscious, drugged, and shot at, looking for your Velma, so quit trying to make a milkshake out of my insides, will you?"

 

"This car sticks out like spats at an Iowa picnic"

 

 

(upon finding someone he's been searching for) "I spotted your car"

(reply) "You spotted my car? Will it wash off? It's a rental"

Top Ten: Cinema's Most Treasured Images

This category needs little explanation. See the films listed and you'll know why. We'll start with #10 and work our way to Cinema's most treasured, iconic image.

#10. The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

#10. The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

9. The Searchers (1956)

9. The Searchers (1956)

#8. Safety Last (1923)

#8. Safety Last (1923)

#7. Citizen Kane (1941)

#7. Citizen Kane (1941)

6. Vertigo (1958)

6. Vertigo (1958)

#5. The Wild Bunch (1969)

#5. The Wild Bunch (1969)

#4. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

#4. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

#3. Ikiru (1952)

#3. Ikiru (1952)


2. King Kong (1933)

2. King Kong (1933)


1. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

1. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

 

So what did I miss? Please give me your thoughts in the comments section below.

A. G.

P.S. A trivia question for film buffs: What is the amazingly strong link between the last two images above?

Capturing a Golden Moment #7

In this series I'd like to present some exceptional scenes inspired by cinema's most gifted artists of yesteryear.

 

 

Sometimes a Great Notion (1971)

Director: Paul Newman

Scene: "Logging Accident"

(Harrowing but poignant, Newman's directorial debut reveals the unique identities of his characters in this stunningly tragic scene.)

Sometimes a Great Notion is available on Blu-Ray here:

Sometimes A Great Notion [Blu-ray]
$13.30
Starring Paul Newman, Henry Fonda, Lee Remick

It is also available on DVD here:

 

Sometimes a Great Notion
$17.98
Starring Paul Newman, Henry Fonda, Lee Remick, Richard Jaeckel, Linda Lawson

Six Degrees of Treasure Trivia: Quiz #5

6 DEGREES OF TREASURE TRIVIA:  

Further hints to question #1 will be provided in the others (#2-#6).  Feel free to send your answers to arthur@thecinemacafe.com.

1. The following are heard in this film:

"Plantin' and readin', plantin' and readin'. Fill a man full o' lead, stick him in the ground an' then read words at him. Why, when you've killed a man, why try to read the Lord in as a partner on the job?"

Can you name the film?

 

2. Upon seeing the star's performance in film #1, a famous Director is reported to have said: "I didn’t know the big son of a bitch could act!"

Can you name the star of the film referred to in #1 and the Director (who often hired him) ascribed to making the above remark?

 

3. In a 1971 Academy Award Best Picture nominated film, the final movie that plays in a local town's theatre is the film referenced in #1.

Can you name this 1971 film?

 

4. An actor making his motion picture debut in film #1 played a priest accused of murder in this 1953 film directed by a famous British Director.

Can you name the actor, the 1953 film and its Director?

 

5. The U.S. southern state that film #1's story begins in has a one word name sometimes used to describe it. This name is the same title of a 1956 film.

Can you name the 1956 film?

 

6. Two of the principal stars in film #1 appeared in the same director's subsequent 1959 film. In this '59 film, two other co-stars who were both known as singers sing a song adapted from the theme heard throughout film #1.

Can you name the two actors appearing in both film #1 and the 1959 film, the title of the 1959 film, both film's Director, and the additional two actors (and singers) of the song described? For the real diehards out there, name the song's title they sing and its music's composer (who's also film #1's composer) and finally the most baffling of all: Name the original theme's title for film #1.

Sterling Silver Dialogue #11

Sterling Silver Dialogue From The Movies: 

Do you know where they're from? Answers coming soon.

 

"How singularly innocent I look this morning"

"Young woman, either you have been raised in some incredibly rustic community, where good manners are unknown, or you suffer from a common feminine delusion that the mere fact of being a woman exempts you from the rules of civilized conduct. Possibly both"

"I don't use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom"

"I'll neither consider, endorse or use the Wallace pen. I hate pens. If your employer wishes me to publish that statement in my column, you may tell them that I should be delighted to oblige"

"In my case, self-absorption is completely justified. I have never discovered any other subject quite so worthy of my attention"

"I'm not kind, I'm vicious. It's the secret of my charm"

"I cannot stand these morons any longer. If you don't come with me this instant, I shall run amok"

"You'd better watch out, McPherson, or you'll end up in a psychiatric ward. I don't think they've ever had a patient who fell in love with a corpse"

"...and thus as history has proved, love is eternal. It has been the strongest motivation for human actions throughout centuries. Love is stronger than life. It reaches beyond the dark shadow of death"

"The best part of myself. That's what you are. Do you think I'm going to leave it to the vulgar pawing of a second rate detective who thinks you're a dame? Do you think I could bear the thought of him holding you in his arms, kissing you, loving you?!"

 

 

"What the hell are you doin' here?" (reply)  "I'm lookin' at a tin star with a... drunk pinned on it"

 

 

"You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season"

"At least I shall have the pleasure of putting you out of my misery"

 

 

"I've always wanted to know somebody who's been to China. Tell me about it"   (reply)   "A lot of Chinese live there"

 

"Do you think my husband would like to see a picture of me hanging over the fireplace?"

(reply)  "I think your husband would like to see you hanging anyplace"

 

 

 

"Am I the worst oaf in the world?" (reply) "The world's a big place. You're the worst one in my life"

 

 

"Love is like the measles. You only get it once, and the older you are, the harder you take it"

 

"Well, it wouldn't hurt you to learn some manners, too"  (reply)  "What do I need manners for? I already got me a wife"

 

 

"If my answers frighten you then you should cease asking scary questions"

 

"I'll just walk the earth"  (reply)  "What'cha mean walk the earth?"  (response)  "You know, walk the earth. Meet people. Get into adventures, like Caine from 'Kung Fu'"

 

"You see that, young lady? Respect. Respect for one's elders gives character"  (reply)  "I have character"  (response)   "Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character"

 

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go home and have a heart attack"

 

 

 

 

 

End Credits #13: Cinema's 2014 Lost Treasures

I am honored to introduce for his first post here, guest blogger Bob DiMucci:

 

When I was growing up, one of our local television stations had a Saturday morning show called "Shirley Temple Theater," in which they had Temple's films on a regular rotation. I saw many of her most popular films as part of that series. In the 50 years since, however, I've probably revisited only one or two of those films. Yet I still have vivid memories of many scenes from them.

The Films of Shirley Temple

Read More

Top Ten: Western Treasures Part 2

 

One of the more fascinating aspects of this genre is that the historic "wild west" of America had just officially ended when these motion pictures were first being churned out. (For a further introduction to this series, see Top Ten: Western Treasures Part 1).

             William F. Cody

             William F. Cody

Edwin Porter's The Great Train Robbery was released in 1903 while "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" (a show William F. Cody started in 1883) still had another decade to go before closing. These shows (including famous Western figures like Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane) along with their cinematic counterparts (even Cody himself in 1913 made the lost film The Indian War), were presenting a mostly romanticized, falsely heroic, re-imagining of historical events that their audiences voraciously consumed. Literary figures Bret Harte and Zane Grey made a significant contribution to this popular 'revised' representation as well.

Cinematic portrayals of famous heroes and anti-heroes in numerous Westerns to come, including those featuring Wild Bill Hickok, General Custer, Billy the Kid, Frank and Jesse James, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, would continue the "mythologization" of the West from one turn of the century to another.

During this one hundred plus years of the Western's cinematic evolution, filmmakers preoccupied with promoting either the ‘legends’ or the ‘facts’ limited their capacity to explore greater forms of human truths and conflicts. In contrast, some visionary filmmakers would embrace this simple setting for a different reason: To create and focus their attention on deeper issues, such as trust, friendship and sacrifice. When no longer required to explain the why and wherefore, these themes could freely play out against their opposing forces of betrayal, antagonism and greed.

The Western's familiar environment permitted its audience to witness these stories in a more personal fashion, giving us the opportunity to clearly perceive their timeless insights and applications.  It afforded the enlightened breed of storyteller greater freedom to advance their stories beyond the boundaries of historical accuracy and steer the genre's evolution in a more meaningful direction.

Aside from the paltry 10 Western motion pictures (from the thousands upon thousands made) that will be covered here, many more will be reviewed in a follow-up series entitled "Plundering the Genre."

Generally speaking, the criteria for selecting the Top Ten from this category are in regards to the fictional narrative's authenticity in respect to its characters and their motives. This, and the depth of their relationships have become decisive factors in determining the best from the rest.

 

Continuing the Top Ten Western Treasures:

 

#5. Man of the West (1958, U.S.A.)

Director: Anthony Mann

title card.jpg

Following a thwarted train robbery, reformed outlaw Link Jones is left stranded along with fellow passengers Sam Beasley (a card shark) and Billie Ellis (a saloon singer). They make their way to an isolated farmhouse only to discover its inhabitants are the unsuccessful bandits. Making the situation more precarious, the bandits' leader is Link's uncle Dock Tobin, who raised him and whom Link abandoned long ago upon realizing the sickness and futility of his killing and robbing ways. Link was on the train trying to get to Fort Worth. He was entrusted with a year's advance salary to provide a schoolteacher for Good Hope, a community which, knowing about Link's evil past, gradually allowed him to "live it down", regain his self respect and earn their trust. Even though the bandits didn't get anything from the railroad, (a sharpshooting guard managed to get the train to move on safely before the gang could successfully complete their task) one of them, already on the train when it left the station, took Link's bag containing the money that was entrusted to him. Now, Link must convincingly feign interest in re-joining Dock's gang of killers while stopping them from endangering the lives of his two fellow travelers.

doc and julie.jpg

Link is superbly played by Gary Cooper, the part and performance being somewhat reminiscent of his Will Kane in High Noon especially when he has to shoot it out with 3 adversaries in a deserted town toward the end of the story. What gives his character here an added complexity is the fact that Link used to be just like these bad guys. Now he secretly has to outsmart and fight against them while pretending to be one of them. This is something he reminds Billie (Julie London) of, when they're alone saying: "There's a point where you either grow up and become a human being or you rot, like that bunch."

Stumbling on to the remnants of his past life, the series of events set into motion will provide the "link" to a history he's constantly reminded of and tortured by. These same events will progressively motivate him to break free from that "link" by ironically calling upon those same primal "kill or be killed" instincts he'd rather have forgotten about. As good as Cooper is at portraying this inner turmoil, Lee J. Cobb's performance as his nemesis Uncle Dock is even better. Cobb is riveting when he bitterly rails against his nephew for running off and leaving him. He makes us feel his rage at the new inferior gang he's saddled with when admonishing the group for not taking a train with "one stinking guard" and fully captivates us with his dream of robbing a fat bank in a small town. More than once Dock will separate Link from his companions so that he, or his fellow gang members, can degrade and humiliate the others which culminates in the sexual assault of Billie.

man of the west.jpg

Strong and dangerous threats constantly arise for all three. With the exception of Dock who wants Link to help him with the bank robbery, every other gang member (including two of Link's cousins) want all three immediately killed and have no compunction about repeatedly saying so. The most vile and repulsive of the bunch is Link's cousin Coaley (an all-stops-out Jack Lord) who at one point makes Billie strip while holding a knife to Link's throat.

fight.jpg

As intense as this scene is, a later showdown between Link and Coaley is even more terrifyingly suspenseful. After a brutal fistfight, in which Link is finally able to get the upper-hand over an exhausted Coaley, he literally strips him down in revenge for Coaley's earlier mistreatment of Billie, all the while taunting him verbally. These moments portraying Link's vengeful regression give credence to a past life of having been "as bad as the others". They reveal the strange enjoyment of Dock witnessing a weaker relative being sadistically tormented by another. Furthermore, the scene has Sam Beasley (endearingly played by Arthur O'Connell) committing an act of heroism and finalizing the moment with some poignant words he delivers to Link: "It was a shrewd move. You see, I figured without you around here, they'd have killed me for sure. I'd have laid 3...4 to 1 on that."

man.jpg

Anthony Mann had previously directed James Stewart in a series of fine Westerns including Top Ten #7 on this list with Stewart campaigning for the main character part here. But a previous falling out with the director gave us Cooper instead. Mann's extreme confidence and experience is most evident in the ensemble performances, incredible shot compositions and imaginative staging of the events taking place. Leigh Harline supplied the expansive "great outdoors" kind of memorable theme used most appropriately throughout the story not to mention his superb underscoring of the outbursts of violence. From the locomotive winding through lush green countryside to the dirty, dilapidated town of Lassoo, to the monumental rock formations at the film's climax, the scenery in Man of the West is so formidable it almost manages to chew up the actors. All of which is beautifully photographed by Ernest Haller in its CinemaScope glory.

lassoo.jpg

For its final showdown between Link and Dock the action takes place at the previously mentioned rock formations reaching skyward and shaped almost like an ampitheatre. A half-mad Dock yelling from on top of the mountain like some mythical creature overseeing his great domain, questions Link about whether he killed all of his remaining gang members and family. Link returns the call with: "Listen to me Dock! Claude and Ponch and Trout are lying in the streets at Lassoo. Lassoo's a ghost town, and that's what you are, Dock! You've outlived your kind and outlived your time, and I'm comin' to get you!" The perfect dialogue and setting for a climactic finish to this dark and moving Western.

A. G.

 

Next Time: Top Ten Western #4 Ride the High Country