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
In Germany all films get dubbed, and at that time even the titles were translated. Thus it happened that in the German-dubbed version James Stewart's name is spelled wrong in the front credits, with a d in the end. See more »
As Roy Anderson climbs a rope up the cliff side, the cable holding him safely in place is visible alongside the rope. See more »
The Naked Spur, modestly budgeted, with a big-name cast, is among other things almost an experimental film, as it was shot almost entirely outdoors and uses no standing sets. Directed by Anthony Mann, it is one of the several pictures he made with James Stewart in the fifties, most of them westerns. It is a simple tale of complex characters. That the action takes place against the backdrop of the West cleverly conceals that the movie is a drama as much as anything else; almost Bergmanesque in its spareness, it deals more with the psychology of greed and revenge than with more traditional western themes, such as honor, which scarcely figures in the story.
Stewart plays a bounty hunter who is chasing after outlaw Robert Ryan for personal as much as monetary reasons. Even after he captures Ryan his emotionalism gets the better of him, as the outlaw preys sadistically on his vulnerabilities. Ryan's girl, Janet Leigh, is along for the ride, as are Millard Mitchell, as a crafty old codger, and Ralph Meeker, a disgraced army officer. None of these characters is admirable, as one would not want to encounter any of them (aside from Miss Leigh, that is) in a dark alley, or for that matter a bright one. Everyone in the film is deeply flawed and shows conflicting emotions. Aside from Ryan, each character has his good points, and some are likeable in spite of themselves. One never knows where Stewart stands with any of them till the end, as the power struggles that ensue are continuous and unrelenting, driving Stewart to near nervous breakdown.
This is neither a happy nor optimistic movie, and its high quality is typical of so many westerns of the fifties, managing to deal with serious psychological, moral, even economic issues in ways that were nearly impossible in films set in contemporary times. Yet for all its grimness the movie is a wonder to behold, as William Mellor's photography is stunning; and Mann makes excellent use of the rocky, mountainous terrain, so like the interior states of the characters. The depth of the film comes from the way it unfolds, and how well we get to know the people in it, rather than the plot, which tends to follow the characters rather than the other way around, unusual in a western. All the actors are fine, though good as he is as the villain I wish that Robert Ryan's part had been cast with another actor,--Barry Sullivan for instance,--whose dandyishness would have made a nice contrast to the others in the film, while Ryan's pathology, though perfectly embodied by the actor is also a bit predictable if one has seen Ryan in other films, as he had, at this point in his career, gone this way perhaps once too often.
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