Saturday, 19 September 2009

The Naked Spur

: Jimmy Stewart plays a bounty hunter taking wanted man Robert Ryan to justice. Ryan and ladyfriend sidekick Janet Leigh play mind games with Stewart whilst Jimmy has to also contend with two mercernary sidekicks Millard Mitchell (looking like he's in the donkey derby riding his mule) and Ralph Meeker. And you thought he looked stressed in Vertigo. Of course the tables turn half way through and Janet realises that Jimmy's a good guy and Robert is very, very bad. All ends well and, without spoiling it, Janet and Jimmy ride off into the West together

This was my first Mann/Stewart western, so lots to look out for. Anthony Mann's westerns are always billed as psychological but so much of Naked Spur reminded of other westerns such as B-movie western director par excellence Budd Boetticher's Ride Lonesome and 3:10 to Yuma. Stories about bounty hunters taking their quarry to justice and all that focus on people's motivation for action and secrets from their past and stuff. There was also a strong element echoed films like Ride the High Country - men playing mind games with each other, testing out each others' moral codes.

The moral code litmus test in The Naked Spur for me was Janet Leigh's character. She starts out as a naive daughter of friend to Robert Ryan, convinced that he's really okay and will take care of her. However, as the film goes on and as Ryan tries to turn everyone against James Stewart it becomes obvious that Janet is beginning to see the bounty hunter for who he really is - a mixed up but really decent guy.

Reading up on this before watching, I knew that the film was all shot outdoors which meant some stunning scenery (thank you The Rockies) and some interesting camera work. Early on we got a great shot - reminiscent of Vertigo - looking almost vertically down on Stewart as he contemplates climbing up a rock face to capture Ryan. The only problem with so much outdoor work is some hilariously but just out of sync overdubbing.

Great climax too (*Caution: SPOILERS*) - Ryan and Leigh are trying to escape and are on the top of an outcrop above a raging river. Ryan's killed ol' timey Mitchell who is now laid out on some flat rocks down below (some great perspective shots here) and when Stewart and Meeker turn up there's shootin' aplenty. Stewart eventually makes his way up the rocks (nicely bookending the earlier climb) using his spur first as a crampon and then, when face to face with Ryan, as a weapon. Ryan ends up dead and in the white water, with poor Meeker risking and losing his life to retrieve the body. Phew! So much action and so well executed.

Overall a western with so many facets - great action, moral dilemmas, love interest - but at its centre a story of a mixed up man just trying to get through. Always a pleasure to watch James Stewart too.

More info:

No comments:

Post a Comment