on 15 February 2010
Superfluous though it is to post a review where Trevor Willsmer, the Jimmy Ringo of Amazon reviewers, has already delivered his magisterial verdict, there's still just a chink of daylight to sneak through.
This is an improvement on Winchester '73 and The Bend of the River, the first two of the Anthony Mann/James Stewart 1950s western series. The tone is tougher, the theme of troubled redemption that Trevor succinctly outlines more worthwhile, and Stewart at long last seems to be getting the hang of playing a nasty piece of work with hidden depths and surprisingly susceptible to change. Mann's idea of filming what's really a chamber piece comprising just 5 players and all against the blue skies and big mountains of Colorado (as beautifully filmed as the landscapes of the other entries of the series) is quite a bold one, though I'm not sure it really works. As in the two above-mentioned movies, the goal the characters set themselves is not especially interesting (here it's bringing in Robert Ryan's grinning murderer and nabbing the bounty), nor is their progress particularly enthralling as Ryan tries to set the five against each other with his moll Janet Leigh holding the ring. Trouble is, all five are motivated by greed (until Stewart's 11th hour conversion on the road to if not Damascus then Abilene at the end of the Chisholm Trail) and I wasn't really too bothered whether our self-appointed bounty hunters made it or not.
Stewart and Ryan make a strong pair of leads; unlike Trevor I thought Ryan was plenty nasty enough under the giggling, while agreeing his attempts to conceal his wiles were pretty transparent. Janet Leigh is very easy indeed on the eye, though her tousled short hair (did women wear their hair short in the West in those days?) and uncannily spotless outfit make her look as if she's just stepped off the inside pages of Vogue magazine, and judging from her close-ups she's stocked up big time on the mascara and rouge at the Denver branch of Supadrug.
But the real glory of this picture is the last five minutes as the shoot-out unfolds on rocks above the foaming Colorado River. This and its aftermath is a little masterpiece. The adversaries look like ants in a landscape as the advantage sways to and fro above and in the water. Then at the resolution as James Stewart comes to understand a man is more than the price of his skin and he has to stare into his own grasping heart, he croaks out:
before almost in spite of himself choosing good from evil, right from wrong, civilised values from savagery. This crucial moment is filmed from over Janet Leigh's shoulder, and beautifully done with the two principals successively in close-up against an azure sky, and the last shot is one of optimism as the great theme music changes, I think, from A major to C minor and seems to sweep the man and the woman ahead of it en route to California. A terrific ending and a great cinematic moment as important theme, visuals and music combine; for that alone this is a western that fans of the genre need to see.
on 28 February 2014
This unusually for Warners is a very poor presentation for what is a 5 star film.the audio is fine but the picture quality is only average with faded colours and blurry image.it looks like it was transferred from a VHS tape.it's watchable but this classic deserves better.on the plus side it is region 2 compatible and has optional subtitles.
on 25 April 2015
The sound and the picture are both fine on this D.V.D. supplied by, all your music,(U.S.A.) There is some spectacular scenery featured in this M.G.M. western adventure directed by Anthony Mann and staring James Stewart as Howard Kemp, a double crossed rancher turned bounty hunter driven by bitterness and resentment. He's out after a reward (to buy back his ranch) on an outlaw killer, expertly played by Robert Ryan. A short professional review of this film once wrote of his performance as being " a portrait of leering treachery" a very apt description.
Kemp is helped in his quest by a couple of misfits he meets along the trail. An old prospector, who allows his desire for a big gold strike to fatally cloud his judgement, and a cashiered cavalry officer, an untrustworthy type who's just upset the local Indians and who are now hot on his tail.
When the three men, with some difficulty, capture the outlaw they find he's accompanied by a young girl,(Janet Leigh) a sort of girlfriend he's managed to convince of his innocence, and that he's the victim of unfortunate circumstances. At first she despises Kemp's ruthlessness, but on the journey back, as prisoner tries various ploys to turn each captor against the other, she slowly begins to come to the conclusion that maybe Kemp is perhaps the best of a bad bunch! There is a clue to Kemp's softening of character as he turns and surveys the aftermath of a skirmish with the pursuing Indians. A subtle piece of acting.
The final sequences of the film are a good mix of action, drama and pathos as the story winds down to a satisfactory conclusion.
on 12 June 2016
Howard Kemp is tracking outlaw Ben Vandergroat determined to get his hands on the $5000 reward for his capture. On the slope of the Rocky mountains of Southwest Colorado he finds his man but he is only able to capture him with the help of a grizzled old gold prospector Tess Tate and dishonourable Union soldier, Lieutenant Roy Anderson. The three then try their best to get their man back for the reward.
This was the third of five western collaborations between director Anthony Mann and star James Stewart. It is also one of their best (only been beaten by Winchester 73). Mann was a great director and made various different films throughout his career, however it is his westerns with Stewart that he was most famous for.
James Stewart puts in a angry and intense performance as Howard Kemp. A man obsessed with taking in Vandergroat for the reward money. He isn't your usual do gooder, he allows Tate and Anderson to believe he is a sheriff as when he shows them the wanted poster he has ripped off the reward at the bottom. Hoping to use their help and claim all the money for himself. He is also haunted by his past, all he wants to do is to buy back his old ranch. Which his ex wife sold when he was fighting in the war.
He is supported by Robert Ryan as the grinning villain Vandergroat. He spends the film trying to turn the group against each other and in abid to make his escape, he also winds Kemp up about his wife leaving him. Ralph Meeker plays the dishonourably discharged soldier Roy Anderson, a slimly womanising army Lieutenant. Meeker would go onto play Mike Hammer in the film Noir Kiss Me Deadly. Then we have western regular Millard Mitchell as the down on his luck gold prospector Jess Tate. The beautiful Janet Leigh plays the only female cast member as Lina Patch a young girl who is tagging along with and manipulated by Vandergroat.
Anthony Mann's direction is taunt and tight, devloping a uneasy and distrusting atmosphere between the group. He also makes the most of his beautiful locations in Durango and the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, and Lone Pine, California. In my opinion one of the finest settings in any western movie.
The two standout scenes for me are the Indian ambush, where Roy Anderson prior to the film has raped a Indian girl and her tribe are out for revenge. When they peaceful attempt to talk with Howard Kemp and the group, Anderson appears from behind unloading with his Winchester. The shoot-out is well stage and exciting. The finale is a river rapids ambush with Vandergroat waiting to take out his capturers using Tate as bait.
Overall this is a tense and exciting western that is maybe let down slightly by it's love sub plot involving Kemp and Lina.
on 28 March 2016
I haven't seen all the movies that James Stewart made with the director Anthony Mann, but I have to say that I liked "The Man from Laramie" better than this one. Not that this one is bad -- but it seems as if the idea of this movie was better than the movie itself turned out to be. That's not the fault of the actors. The plot set-up and the screenplay are weak. The idea of three morally compromised men (James Stewart, Ralph Meeker, and Millard Mitchell) in a situation in which they have to take a murderer (Robert Ryan) from Colorado back to Abilene to face hanging and collect the $5,000 dollar reward is potentially interesting, given that there's the temptation to reduce the number of people who would split the reward -- a point that the outlaw prisoner, Ben Vangdergroat (Ryan), keeps bringing up to his captors. Ben is one of these charming psychopaths who, for much of the movie seems kind of likeable, and Ryan plays him well, but the character is superficially conceived and written for no other reason than to get under the skins of the men who seek a reward for him. His captors are Howard Kemp (Stewart), a Civil War veteran who has lost his farm through bizarre circumstances and needs the reward to have a chance to get it back. Ralph Meeker is Roy Anderson, a dishonorably discharged soldier who has run afoul of some Indians too, and Jesse Tate (Mitchell), a prospector of advanced age who is obsessed with making a big strike and who is open to Ben's suggestion that he knows where gold is. In the middle of these obsessed and questionable men is Lina (Janet Leigh), who is traveling with Ben, who was her dead father's best friend. Lina tries to think well of everybody, even Ben. The movie might be seen as her education.
Without giving away the plot twists, I will only say that the circumstances of the three captors getting together against Ben is highly implausibly handled, even by the standards of Western conventions. When you think about it, there's no reason why Howard couldn't have done what he set out to do alone: bring Ben to justice. Getting the other two involved is simply a device to set up the "noir" atmosphere, and it's rather transparently obvious. Howard is wounded during the chase and goes off his head for while, and thus we learn about what has embittered him, but he's not really interesting beyond that. Stewart plays him with the requisite intensity, but neither Roy nor Jeff nor Ben is really involving as a character. The sexual tension occasioned by Lina's presence is alluded to but never really dramatized, perhaps given the decency codes of 1953. The movie isn't dull, and it isn't too long, but the obvious arbitrariness of the set-up is always a bother for me.
The Naked Spur was one of the very first spec scripts to get picked up by a major studio, and it's easy to see why. With a strong story, a small but vividly drawn cast and a lot of post-war cynicism, Sam Rolfe and Harold Jack Bloom's Oscar-nominated screenplay has the feel of one of the film noirs MGM chief Dore Schary was so fond of to it, albeit set in Anthony Mann's beloved high country. James Stewart's the rancher turned ruthless bounty hunter haunted by his Civil War experiences who finds himself saddled with two unwanted partners in the form of Millard Mitchell's '49er prospector and Ralph Meeker's disgraced cavalryman, the kind of man who'll ask you to trust him while drawing a map on the back of his dishonourable discharge. The reward's not big enough to be split three ways, and their wily captive makes sure they know it, sowing the seeds of doubt and betrayal at every opportunity in the hope that they'll be too busy trying to kill each other to stop him escaping. Rounding out the ensemble is Janet Leigh as his travelling companion who finds herself increasingly caught in the middle and, like Stewart, has to make a choice between salvation and damnation before the journey to the gallows is done.
They're all deeply flawed characters, every one of them lying as much to themselves as to each other, and even the hero looks more likely to take the road to Hell than the one to redemption: their captive may or may not once have been a friend, but now he's just a sack of money that's worth just as much dead as alive. As with many of their Westerns, Stewart carries his own physical stigmata with him - in The Man From Laramie a shot through the hand, in Bend of the River the scar of a hangman's noose and in this a bullet in the leg - as he travels his own mental Calvary, kicking and screaming against his own redemption every tormented step of the way as only an Anthony Mann Western hero can. He's more than a match for the elements as the weather and landscape reflects the growing intensity of the drama, until he takes on a raging torrent and wrestles a river for a corpse with more pure hatred and desperation in his eyes than any sane man should ever have. And when redemption comes, it's quiet, almost begrudging and unsensationalized, and all the more effective for that.
If that sounds too perfect, there's a catch, and in this case, unexpectedly it's Robert Ryan, whose performance as the jovial puppeteering wanted man just doesn't work. For once he lacks real menace and it's hard to see anyone being taken in by him he's so laughably insincere. Along with the hokey use of Beautiful Dreamer on the soundtrack it's the film's only misjudgement. More than half a century on, this is still gripping and intense stuff.
Sadly, Warners' DVD is problematic. The color may be better than the TV prints, but the definition is often variable, with pin-sharp shots sometimes alternating with ones that are far softer now than they were in 1953. Extras are the original theatrical trailer, Tex Avery cartoon Little Johnny Jet and Pete Smith Speciality short Things We Can Do Without.
on 2 December 2009
another great film from jimmy stewart , in this he plays a bounty hunter who chase's robert ryan across the colerado rockies the scenery is great like the other reviewers have said ,but the amazing thing with this tense gritty western is there are only 5 characters involved and a brief encounter with a dozen indians yet it keeps you captivated and satisfied throughout . a great piece of film making.
Before setting off to fight in the Civil War, Howard Kemp (James Stewart) had signed his ranch off to his fiancée. Upon returning from the war he found that she had sold the ranch and split the scene. Bitter and twisted, Kemp takes up life as a bounty hunter to hopefully earn the cash to buy back his ranch. Trailing outlaw Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) up in the Rocky Mountains, Kemp falls in with elderly prospector, Jesse (Millard Mitchell), and renegade army officer, Anderson (Ralph Meeker). Capturing Vandergroat, who also has his girlfriend, Lina Patch (Janet Leigh), in tow, this small posse must undertake the arduous journey thru the wilderness-with Vandergroat trying to turn the other travellers against Kemp.
The third film of five remarkable Westerns that director Anthony Mann made with James Stewart as his leading protagonist. The Naked Spur is a taut and tightly scripted picture exploring fractured characters dovetailing towards their respective day of reckoning, with Mann's mountain scenery and rugged terrain acting as physical counterpoint to the mental state of the characters. As is normally the way in the best of Anthony Mann, the troubled "hero" is tormented both mentally and physically as he heads towards his destiny. Stewart as Kemp is magnificent, not only in his portraying of Kemp's borderline hysteria, but also as he deals with the physical battering that Kemp undertakes. Not only spending most the journey in agony from a leg wound, but he's also beaten, falls down a cliff, pushed off his horse, has to dodge rocks and perhaps worst of all, suffers humiliation because Vandergroat (Ryan like a smiling assassin) knows about his past. Compelling stuff as Mann directs it with a claustrophobic tightness belying the magnificent scenery enveloping the characters.
With the exception of some anonymous Indians putting some flesh on Anderson's story bones, the film is just a five character piece. With that, it's also a very simple story, one that could very easily be taken for granted. But this is a near masterpiece, with its emotional kickers and exciting action sequences (the raging river finale is sublime) being attention holding from the get go. But ultimately it's the thematics that make The Naked Spur the great movie it is, as Vandergroat bitingly points out, "Choosing a way to die? What's the difference? Choosing a way to live. That's the hard part," well no more needs to be said really. 9/10
on 24 October 2010
Initially I thought the film was out of focus and the sound was not quite right but it seemed to get better after the first six minutes.Another outdoors classic from Anthony Mann.They certainly do not make Westerns like this any more.Jimmy Stewart seemed to wear the same clothes in his Mann westerns, that light brown jacket of his seems to appear in The Far Country and Bend Of The River also.They certainly would have felt the cold in that high country.The stunts in The Naked Spur look very convincing and dangerous, Robert Ryan seems to enjoy his evil role and Jimmy snarls back convincingly when angry, giving his role an uncompromising aspect apart from being the good guy.Grand vistas in westerns make the film come alive.See The Last Wagon and Night Passage if you agree.It is a pity that a decent copy of Drumbeat with Alan Ladd,directed by Delmar Daves has not been released.I rate it as one of the best westerns ever.To conclude, as a young boy in Melbourne I once saw a western in which townsfolk were being gunned down by a mystery assassin with a shotgun, and there was a guy wearing a flat brimmed black hat I think.I have never seen it again since the early 60's.Can anyone name this film for me?
on 10 September 2015
One of my favourite James Stewart westerns. Really good to see it again. A reasonable quality print.