THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955) C widescreen 104m dir: Anthony Mann

w/James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Crisp, Cathy O'Donnell, Alex Nicol, Aline Mac Mahon, Wallace Ford, Jack Elam, John War Eagle, James Millican

Anthony Man made some superb westerns in the 1950s and this is one of them. Stewart has left Laramie in search of the men responsible for selling automatic rifles to the Indians who killed his brother, and so begins this mythic tale of the Old West.

Mann's westerns abound with Biblical and Shakespearean themes that revolve around the family and involve hatred and revenge. In fact, THE MAN FROM LARAMIE reaches towards King Lear in several ways: the patriarch played by Donald Crisp is worried about his kingdom (his cattle ranch), and, like Gloucester, he's both growing blind and incapable of seeing the truth about his two sons; and the scene where Alex Nicol shoots Stewart's hand is like the blinding of Gloucester in its gratuitous excess and the sense of moral outrage it carries with it; this scene is exemplary of Mann's work at its most intense.

The film in general incorporates themes that recur in Mann's work. There is the contrast between two distinct worlds, that of the isolated loner and the community. There is the hero who is bent on revenge, personified in Will Lockhart (what a name!) (Stewart). And then there are the complicated familial relationships: the real son (Nichol) who's a vicious psychopath, and the adopted son (Kennedy) who is sympathetic but his integrity is compromised. These two men are measured against the "possible" son (Stewart), the only one worthy of the old patriarch's respect. All the men are pushed to the limit, and the result is powerful drama which is played out against the backdrop of the western landscape. This magnificent landscape and Mann's brilliant use of the widescreen to frame his story make seeing THE MAN FROM LARAMIE in "letterboxed" format a must.