The US Army is under pressure from the desperate relatives of white prisoners of the Comanches to secure their rescue. A cynical and corrupt marshal, Guthrie McCabe, is persuaded by an army... See full summary »
Howard Kemp is a bounty hunter who's been after killer Ben Vandergroat for a long time. Along the way, Kemp is forced to take on a couple of partners, an old prospector named Jesse Tate and a dishonorably discharged Union soldier, Roy Anderson. When they learn that Vandergroat has a $5000 reward on his head, greed starts to take the better of them. Vandergroat takes every advantage of the situation sowing doubt between the two men at every opportunity finally convincing one of them to help him escape. Written by
Set in the post Civil War American West, The Naked Spur is more than a western. The director, Anthony Mann, took a script by two relatively unknown screenwriters (later nominated for an Oscar) and made a great picture about losers trying to survive in a tough postwar world. James Stewart, the star, plays a rancher who lost everything because before going off to the Civil War, he signed his ranch over to his girlfriend. In 1952, when this picture was filmed, World War II was no distant memory, the Korean War was going on and the idea that a soldier thought he wasn't going to return from a war was real enough. The writers and Anthony Mann placed the story almost a hundred years earlier, but the movie is about regular people on the skids. The cashiered Army officer, always looking out for number one, whatever the cost to others, had to ring true with war veterans in the audience in 1953. There is a villain, and Robert Ryan plays a great one, but James Stewart's character, Howard Kemp, is no hero. Ryan's character, Ben Vandergroat, complains that he knew Howard and he never did Howie any wrong, so there was no reason for Kemp to track him down, regardless of the reward money. Ryan has a point, a western hero doesn't hunt down someone just for money, knowing that if caught the person will be executed. But the scenic views of the Rocky Mountains, the great production values (including Technicolor) by MGM and the stars all are a façade for what could have been a film noir picture, Anthony Mann's earlier specialty. Stewart's character in The Naked Spur is trying to get back the ranch he lost after his world was turned upside down by war. The screaming nightmares he has, showing the psychological trauma the war was responsible for, would now go under the name post traumatic stress syndrome. War veterans trying to return to a normal life has always been a subject for movies, but rarely has the message been hidden as well as here. The Naked Spur is the type of class picture studios don't (or can't) make anymore, and that is the moviegoers' loss.
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