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With: Gary Cooper, Julie London, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur O'Connell, Jack Lord, John Dehner, Royal Dano, Robert J. Wilke
Written by: Reginald Rose, based on a novel by Will C. Brown
Directed by: Anthony Mann
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 100
Date: 10/01/1958

Man of the West (1958)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Mann's World

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

With this film, the great American director Anthony Mann simultaneously left the third stage of his career and entered the fourth; he went from unremarkable B-films, to film noir, to Westerns and finally to epics. Man of the West is a combination of the James Stewart Westerns that came before it and the epic ideas that would drive his final few films.

Gary Cooper stars as Link Jones, a man who boards a train hoping to hire a teacher for the new school in his small town. Unfortunately the train is robbed and Link is left at the side of the tracks. He teams up with a gambler (Arthur O'Connell) and a dance hall girl (Julie London) and together they head for shelter. Unfortunately, they find the bad guys' hideout. Even worse, Link actually used to work for them, and their leader, Dock Tobin (the overacting Lee J. Cobb) believes that Link has come back to stay.

From there the bulk of the film is a tense standoff between shades of heroes and villains, each trying to read the others' intentions. Dock plans a big bank robbery, which leads to the inevitable final showdown. Mann's presentation here is grander and less naturalistic than the earlier Westerns, but at the same time, it's rooted in his own unique voice. As usual in Mann, the landscape always reflects the emotional state of the characters. The awesome final shootout has Link on a porch and his cousin underneath the same porch, framed in the same shot.

Many critics have seen Man of the West as the pinnacle of Mann's career, a summing up of all his themes and ideas. As far as I'm concerned, this is far more essential than Cooper's turn in the overrated High Noon (1952). I originally saw the film on an imported DVD, but now the film is at last available in a gorgeous new transfer on Blu-ray, thanks to Kino Lorber. It comes with a trailer and optional English subtitles.

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