Wednesday 25 November 2015

The Man from Laramie (1955)

Han kom fra Laramie
Through the first half of the fifties director Anthony Mann made a number of westerns with James Stewart. I have already reviewed “Winchester 73” and “The Naked Spur” and with “The Man from Laramie” I have completed this particular series, at least as far at the List is concerned. The movies are each independent from each other telling different stories and yet there are some elements running through all of them. Of course I cannot speak for those other movies in the series I have not seen, but I have a gut feeling they touch on similar issues.

The obvious similarity is James Stewart himself, but it goes deeper than just using him as the star of the movies. Jimmy Stewart was known for playing the Mr. Everybody type, the guy anybody could relate to and who would represent the common sense regular guy. Mann changed that. In his movies Stewart became a bundle of raw nerves, angry, vengeful and traumatized. Oh, he would still be our hero and he would end up doing the right thing but his motivations were not as kosher as we would expect from Jimmy.

In “The Man from Laramie” James Stewart’s Will Lockhart is on the hunt for the people who sold advanced rifles to the Apache and enabled them to kill his brother while on an army patrol. That is fair enough but this hunt is more an obsession than an investigation. Lockhart is a terrier, persistent and stubborn far into the ridiculous in his insistence of digging up the killers. There is a whining, almost shrill note to this search which is completely at odds with the character’s otherwise easy down to Earth attitude and it tells something of the pain raging within him.

Being a western there are of course only so many plotlines for a movie and on the outside this is no exception. A stranger rides into town (In this case Coronado, New Mexico) and unravels a rottenness permeating the town. The stranger, Lockhart, is not the cause of the rot, but the trigger that release the tension into an explosion. Dig a little though and the story gets more interesting.

In the case of Coronado the problem is the Barb ranch and the Waggoman clan. Alec Waggoman (Donald Crisp) owns most of everything and acts as the king of Coronado and surroundings. His rule, ruthless but not without prosperity, is about to expire and the next generation take over. The crown prince is an insane idiot (Dave, played by Alex Nicol) completely unfit to run anything including himself. The king while not entirely blind to his failings still dotes on him and let him get away with his madness. As the third wheel the minister, or foreman Vic Hansbro (Arthur Kennedy) is the one actually running the kingdom. He feels he deserve to be the heir, but despite his filial dedication he will never be Alec’s son. Instead he is charged with reining in Dave and be forever just the useful servant.

Vic is bitter and Dave is psychotic and suspicious of Vic. It is obvious that without Alec these two will be at each other’s throat and Lockhart’s arrival is simply the trigger that sets them off. They are of course the ones who sell guns to the Apache and part of their hostility is directed at Lockhart who threatens their secret, but it is also a mere tool in their struggle against each other. A fight that has nothing to do with Lockhart. Dave longs to be the big and powerful ruler and needs every outlet to be that and Vic is condensed frustration at watching Dave tearing everything apart that he should rightly have inherited.

Being the butt end of Dave’s psychotic anger is no fun. Lockhart has his caravan burned, his mules shot, his hand maimed and is accused of several murders. Apparently for no other reason than being at the wrong place at the wrong time, but particularly for not going away. As he hovers around the Waggoman clan he is a symbol of threat to each of them. Is he the man from Alec’s dream? For Dave he his defiance of his power and therefore making him impotent and for Vic Lockhart may be the person he wished he was and therefore a provocation.

Of course the whole thing plays out in a much less highbrow manner than the above indicates. There is a solid amount of horse riding, gunfight and straight talk to make this a western with a very easy appeal. It is easy to like Lockhart despite his obsessive nature if nothing else then because of his un-corruptible attitude. Of course being Jimmy Stewart we would expect that.

Also the pace is really good. I was never really bored watching the movie and that is always a plus. Add to that that the movie is beautiful to look at in cinemascope colors and you are in for a treat.

If there is anything negative then it would be that Lockhart’s quest is almost a MacGuffin. Those guns and particularly the Apache are hardly of even secondary importance compared to the role of the Waggoman implosion. I do not know if there is much closure in this for Lockhart. Or maybe there is, but for the movie the aim had nothing to do with the gun, but to clean the air on the Barb ranch.

Of the three Mann/Stewart movies on the list I liked this one the best. For the overall impression and entertainment value, but even more so for the depth of the story. It is not often you get to say that about a western.



  1. I watched this as part of one of my Noir Months and really liked it too. I always like Arthur Kennedy and he was especially good here. Of course, Stewart is always fabulous. Coincidentally, I just viewed The Far Country, another Stewart-Mann venture. That wasn't as good. I think too much of a romance always drags a Western down -- and here it was a love triangle.

    1. Yes, I read your review. Some coincidence. There are certain places a western can go and places it should not got. Romance among gunslingers? That is iffy.

  2. I'm a fan of the Mann/Stewart westerns, I agree this one is well-paced and entertaining. I read the story was loosely inspired by Shakespeare's King Lear.
    Of the 5 collaborations, Naked Spur, Man from Laramie & Winchester '73 are my favorites. Bend of the River was not as good, and I have yet to watch The Far Country.

    1. Those are also the three movies on the list. This one clicked best with me. The story is simply more interesting. King Lear was also what I was thinking of.