THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)





"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

TOP 21 FAVORITE WESTERNS -- THE FAR COUNTRY





#20

THE FAR COUNTRY (Universal, 1955)

DIRECTOR: Anthony Mann;  PRODUCER: Aaron Rosenberg; WRITER: Borden Chase; CAMERA: William Daniels


CAST: James Stewart, Ruth Roman, Walter 
Brennan, Corinne Calvet, John McIntire, Jay C. Flippen, Harry Morgan, Steve Brodie, Connie Gilchrist, Kathleen Freeman, Eddy Waller, John Doucette, Royal Dano, Jack Elam, Robert J. Wilke, Chubby Johnson, Gregg Barton, Stuart Randall, Chuck Roberson


This is the fourth and final Western made by the Mann-Stewart team, and it is a dandy.



"I don't need other people.  I don't need help.  I can take care of me." -- Jeff Webster (James Stewart)


 

It is the story of a Wyoming cowboy (Stewart), another loner (except for his partner played by Brennan), who shepherds a herd of cattle to the gold fields of Alaska; but on the way he has to contend with a lot of adversity.  He briefly settles down with Brennan to mine a gold claim, but the villains (led by McIntire) will not leave him alone.  Stewart goes on the revenge trail after Brennan is murdered and learns in the process that a man must sometimes get involved with the society around him and may also need the aid of others.


Walter Brennan, Corinne Calvet, and James Stewart


The plot doesn't break any new ground, but the good performances by Stewart, Brennan, and McIntire, the able direction of Mann, and the beautiful Canadian Rocky locations in Alberta shot in color by Daniels, make it worthwhile viewing.


John McIntire was a versatile actor who early in his career moved seamlessly between badman and upright citizen roles.  He was a villain in three of Mann's films:  WINCHESTER '73 (Universal, 1950), THE FAR COUNTRY, and THE TIN STAR (Paramount, 1957, starring Henry Fonda).  


In 1961, upon the sudden death of Ward Bond at age 57, McIntire became wagon master Chris Hale on the TV Western WAGON TRAIN, remaining in the series until its discontinuation in 1965.  During the Bond years the series was a 60-minute program and was filmed in black-and-white.  During two seasons in McIntire's tenure the show was expanded to ninety minutes and was filmed in color.


In 1967-1968, as a result of the unexpected death of Charles Bickford, McIntire became the owner of  the "Shiloh" ranch on THE VIRGINIAN, which had been the first 90-minute Western series.


Among the many familiar faces in THE FAR COUNTRY, a young Harry Morgan (later Col. Potter on the M*A*S*H TV series) is one of the bad guys.  He appeared in six of Mann's films.  


Back in 1943, Morgan had an important co-starring role in the classic Western, THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (Fox, 1943), portraying Henry Fonda's cowpoke buddy.


B-Western fans will recognize Eddy Waller, who just a few years earlier was seen on the big screen as Nugget Clark, sidekick to Allan "Rocky" Lane in his Western series at Republic.





Jack Elam, sightless in his left eye as a result of a childhood accident, possessed one of the most recognizable faces in film history.  He began his career as one of the baddest of the bad guys.  Which is ironic, because he entered show business working as an accountant and controller on several films.


But after moving in front of the camera he made the best of his tough guy roles.  He first gained the notice of critics for one of those roles in RAWHIDE (Fox, 1951, starring Tyrone Power and Susan Hayward)  One film critic would later write that Elam was "the roughest, meanest, dirtiest heavy ever to cast a shadow across a movie-lot cow town."


It is also ironic that "the roughest, meanest, dirtiest heavy ever" turned out to have a knack for comedy which became his forte during the latter years of his career.





James Stewart and "Pie"

Another familar presence in the film is Stewart's favorite movie horse, "Pie."  Stewart rode the horse for twenty-two years in seventeen films.  He was once quoted as saying that Pie was the best co-star he ever had.


 

REVIEWS:

"Solid, well-acted film....Walter Brennan...gives another good performance." -- Steven H. Scheuer  


"In Mann's hands the Western cliche of the hero as the man with a painful past is given renewed life through the intensity Stewart brings to the role and the parable-like nature of Chase's script." -- Phil Hardy in The Western


"Juvenile claptrap here and there but it's a taut yarn with lovely Rocky Mountain scenery; a fine entertaining movie." -- Brian Garfield in Western Films: A Complete Guide

 
"Credit John McIntire with the top characterization as the silk-hatted, bearded bad man, who is as cheerful about killing as he is about drinking and claim-jumping." -- New York Times








2 comments:

  1. Big Jack Elam fan.On one trip to Arizona,a gentleman claimed to have known
    Mr.Elam and stated that his eye was injured in adulthood.Not that it matters,but Rawhide and Night of the Grizzly films{among others seem to support the info.
    Any thoughts?

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    Replies
    1. The story that I have is that Jack Elam as a young Boy Scout was involved in horseplay with another Scout and was accidentally stabbed in the eye with a pencil. But I couldn't swear to that. I don't know if you read my post on the film "Rawhide" or not, but that was his breakthrough role. He was totally believable as a cold-blooded killer.

      Thanks for dropping by!

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