Man of the West (1958)
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as Link Jones
as Billie Ellis
as Dock Tobin
as Sam Beasley
as Mexican Woman
as Mexican Man
Critic Reviews for Man of the West
Cooper gives a characteristically virile performance, his dominance of the outlaws quietly believable, while London achieves some touching and convincing moments in a difficult role.
A superb Western, exemplifying Mann's capacity for integrating his interest in spectacle with a resonant narrative.
This is a small picture, but it does have a cryptic defiance and an aura of snakelike evil that gets one.
This late CinemaScope western by the great Anthony Mann achieves a tragic intensity and a monumental scenic splendor despite some serious handicaps.
Audience Reviews for Man of the West
Man of the West, the film that Jean-Luc Godard called the best one of 1958 when he was at Cashiers du cinema, is both brutal and sad in how it places its characters into states of being no one can really get out of. One may call it fate or just bad luck when Link Jones finds himself off the train taking him back to his home and finds the one place he'd rather not go to is the only one close by (and happens to have his Uncle Dock Tobin and his cousins), but much of it comes back to the domination of MEN in this world; the 'Man' of the title is meant to be Gary Cooper, and yet it could be any of the men in here. What does it mean to be a man here? For those people wanting someone with honor and integrity, one might look to Cooper's character. What's fascinating is how much of an inner struggle he is having as he comes back to his former home, where his uncle taught him to be a "man" along with his cousins and it was in the ways of being a robber and a killer. He tried to leave that life behind, but somehow, some way, he's pulled back in to it (not that his face possibly tipping off an old-time marshall won't get the old wanted posters out again). So when he happens along to his former criminal, gunslinging, bank-robbing kin when off of this train with a good woman (Julie London as Billie) and Arthur O'Connell as a man who seems like a possible annoyance at first (and who isn't so much once the drama really unfolds), it creates an instant conflict. This is Mann's territory, of the dysfunctional families out in the west (see also Winchester 73 with the brothers who have gone down very different roads of killing, or The Furies with its father-daughter power struggles), and he mines it for some rich dramatic terrain. it's amazing so much of this movie works even when knowing what isn't quite right about it - the age disparity is hard not to see, with Cooper trying to play younger (and, to be fair, not doing a terrible job), and Lee J. Cobb as his *uncle* with a gray wig and some make-up that isn't wholly convincing, certainly on first glance, not to mention his character was a "kid" with one actor half his age - because the acting sells every tension-packed moment. And few moments are more tense and sad and almost tough to watch as when the men demand that Billie take off her clothes in front of them (it takes a knife to Cooper's throat to convince her to start doing it). That, by the way, has the feel of a rape scene because it is (later, off-screen, there is another, and Mann shows us enough of the aftermath and London is heartbreaking in every moment that Billie is put through the wringer), and yet the only thing that stops that violation of her agency to go further is that "Uncle Dock" says it's time for bed. Man of the West is the kind of film that gains in uneasiness and violence, including a fight scene midway through the movie that does not look fun like many, more possible hacky directors (or just more "commercial" minded) might have done. At one point it's Cooper vs one of this gang and it goes on and on, feeling not unlike something out of the fight scene from They Live only without the sense of over the top spectacle. This is rough and ragged and there's a point where the "movie" ness of it goes away and it's just watching two bedraggled men duking it out - including, ultimately, a "humiliation" that Link does that seems to set off this guy more than a simple shot to the head might do. What on the surface may seem like a straightforward thriller turns into a moral tale about the implicit terror that masculinity brings to people in the old west - not unlike Winchester 73 a subtle commentary on the form while getting to be it, in the 1950's of course - and Cobb makes this uncle an imposing presence over everyone (how could he not, after all, he's Lee J friggin Cobb!) Cooper brings a sad dignity to the man, someone who no longer wants to kill, and at the same time can spring into action if he's pushed into a corner, which, you know, is what this movie could also be called: Cornered in the West or something like that. Mann and his writers have here less a story that's meant to arouse excitement as much as contemplating what it fully means when someone gets shot, what that violence entails, or what happens when a woman is stripped away down to what she's "made" for (when she Billie says to Link that he's the first man she can remember in a long time, if ever, to not look at her as something to be "had" or defiled, we believe it). And yet London as an actress gives her a ton of screen presence and little moments that don't make her one dimensional. It may fall short of being a "best of 1958" like Mr. Godard said, but I can see his love for the movie: it's more concerned with ideas and notions of the old west than having it be just empty action and gunfights, and exploring the psychology, to be pretentious about it, of the west itself, of what an outlaw family entails and then what it means to be a *good* person in a world where it's so easy to get a gun and go out and shoot for cash and gold.
Very similar in feel and plot to "The Tall T," but an above average Gary Cooper vehicle nonetheless. The outdoor photography is especially notable.
Interesting western. We meet Link (Cooper) riding into town to catch the train, he appears innocent, looking to bring back a school teacher for the town he lives in. When the train stops for wood for the steam engine a trio of robbers ambushes the train, along with a fourth on the train they botch the robbery but make off with Links bag. Link gets waylaid while loading wood on the train along with two other people, a gambler and a show-girl. As this trio are walking along the tracks, Link takes them on a slight detour, to the place he says he grew up. In reality the house is an old hideout for the robbers and the ringleader is still alive and knows Link. Lee J. Cobb plays the ringleader in a very sadistic role, a lifetime criminal who would kill anybody at anytime. Julie London plays the showgirl (Billie Ellis), very pretty but very streetwise, who catches on very quick when Link tells a lie that she is his girl the band of criminals buys into his story that he is still a criminal. What gives this story a twist is that Link's horse is still on the train, his guns are in the bag the crooks stole, and he is a changed man who needs to get the money back for the teacher and he needs to protect the two people who are with him. Link shows great restraint when Billie wakes up and shows a wonderful sunrise view and he shows his change in character when he refuses her advances. It is a violent movie that gives us an ending that satisfies us in the revenge department but also has us question how the characters lives end because we have a relationship between Link and Billie but we never meet his wife so the assumption is perhaps these two lost souls make a life together, but we never know.
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