An English woman and her daughter enlist the aid of a cowboy to try and get their hardy hornless bull to mate with the longhorns of Texas, but have to overcome greedy criminals and the natural elements.
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
The morality of bounty hunting--really well made but well worn conflicts and themes.
The Naked Spur (1953)
This is a classic straight forward and somewhat clichéd but professional western, with very solid acting and very solid direction, photography, and scenery. That's great, and that's the flaw of it all, this lack or originality. The core of it is action adventure, and an unlikely merging of unsavory characters. At first it's an outlaw that is being sought (Robert Ryan, a youthful bearded Ryan), then it's the Indians who are a danger (and the white gang of good guys and bad guys unite agains this new foe). Heading the posse, if you can call it that, is James Stewart, who is always pretty amazing. And there is the surprise woman in the group, an almost unrecognizable Janet Leigh. Eventually the group has to cross an inhospitable (and beautiful) landscape in all kinds of weather. It's powerful in the themes, if a little familiar in its themes.
Ryan is the highlight here. Stewart is billed first, but he's an uncomplicated hero, and Ryan plays a more convoluted type. The woman is at first Ryan's, it seems, but then it gets complicated. And the other two figures in this roving band take on opposing roles, as well. Leigh, in short hair (a 1950s style, and a good one), is really different, and she does fine. This cast of five is the entire credited cast (the Indians don't count, I guess, with no speaking parts). And because it's a small group, it gets increasingly personal. And good.
Director Anthony Mann is clearly in good form, making a routine script take on both psychological and kinetic edge. Everyone is trapped a bit by a routine script, but Mann makes it really tight and smart. The color photography is also trapped by the routines of beauty in the great Western landscape. The best scenes, at night in a cave, for example, are constricted and tense, really visually wonderful. Sometimes a simple tracking shot will follow someone across bumpy landscape with perfect grace, an invisible cue that the crew is really working hard, laying dolly track, making a difficult scene look easy.
The one really interesting theme that grows slowly until exploding at the end is the morality of hunting someone down just to turn them in for money. The bounty. And the bounty hunter. Well, with Janet Leigh there to help persuade you to higher goals, I supposed Jimmy Stewart can be forgiven. Or praised. You watch and see.
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