Combustible Celluloid
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With: James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Crisp, Cathy O'Donnell, Alex Nicol, Aline MacMahon, Wallace Ford, Jack Elam, John War Eagle, James Millican, Gregg Barton, Boyd Stockman, Frank DeKova
Written by: Philip Yordan, Frank Burt, based on a story by Thomas T. Flynn
Directed by: Anthony Mann
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 104
Date: 08/30/1955

The Man from Laramie (1955)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Salt Licked

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The fifth of Anthony Mann's five Westerns with Jimmy Stewart (and the last of their eight movies together), The Man from Laramie looks more and more like the best of the lot. (Hard to pick, since they're all exceptional.) Mann incorporates all his usual expertise at combining real landscapes with the emotional conflict of his characters, but this time it includes a more intricate plot, and in fact, a kind of murder mystery. (It recalls his earlier, psychological Western, The Furies.)

Stewart stars as Will Lockhart, a man who makes his living delivering goods by wagon through hostile Apache territory. Upon arriving and dropping his latest load, he looks to fill up again to make the trip back more profitable. The local, lovely Barbara (Cathy O'Donnell) tells him about a place at which he can load up on salt for free, but in doing so, Lockhart angers the local cattle baron's family.

His wagons burned, he must stay in town for a while, but the longer he does, the deeper he becomes entwined with the Waggomans: volatile, lunkheaded son Dave (Alex Nicol), stern, crafty father Alec (Donald Crisp), Dave's cousin, the sweet Barbara, and Barbara's fiancé, Vic (Arthur Kennedy), who works for Alec. Before long two murders are pinned on Lockhart, and someone has purchased and hidden a stockpile of repeating rifles to sell to the Apache.

As always, Mann uses high and low ground to magnificent effect, but the difference here is the interiors, the Waggoman's office, and even Lockhart's jail cell are practically characters in themselves. Moreover, Mann handles the twisty plot with expert care; it could have been a Lang or Hitchcock film. We can only wonder if Mann and Stewart quit while they were ahead, or if even greater masterworks might have been in store.

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