In Man of the West Anthony Mann and Gary Cooper, two of the leading protagonists in Hollywood’s grand western tradition, team up for this superior drama in which a reformed outlaw struggles to suppress his base instincts when confronted by his violent past.
Cooper plays the former renegade, Link Jones, now a paid-up member of law-abiding society. Travelling in search of a new schoolteacher for his adoptive community, Link’s train happens to be hijacked by his old gang. Together with fellow passengers Billie Ellis (Julie London) and Sam Beasly (Arthur O’Connell), he finds himself returned to the maelstrom of immorality that he’s spent years trying to escape.
Wooed back into the outlaw lifestyle by his domineering uncle, gang leader Dock Tobin (an impressively vicious performance from Lee J Cobb), Link realises that he must resort to his old ways if he and his charges are to survive. And so begins the film’s central conflict as Link tries to retain his cultivated sophistication in this extreme situation, where brutality reigns and decency is jettisoned in the fight for self-preservation.
It’s an epic struggle, symbolised in a series of sweat-drenched face-offs and gripping shoot-outs that take place in the magnificently photographed landscapes so integral to Mann’s work. But, as in all of his work, Mann refuses to let the locations swamp the drama, while Cooper’s mesmerising performance ensures that the human spirit is never entirely extinguished.
But the tragic tone of the film probably had as much to do with the poor response on its release as anything. Rougher and tougher than Mann’s more celebrated work (such as Winchester ’73 and The Naked Spur) it may be, but that only adds to the film’s texture, while its intelligence and integrity are consistently rewarding. Man of the West is now regarded as a classic, the last great western from a master of the genre.
USA / 100 minutes / 1958
Writers:Reginald Rose, based on a novel by Will C Brown,
Gary Cooper as Link Jones
Julie London as Billie Ellis
Lee J. Cobb as Dock Tobin
Arthur O’Connell as Sam Beasley
Jack Lord as Coaley
Robert J. Wilke as Ponch
Royal Dano as Trout
John Dehner as Claude
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