Far Country [1954]

Director: Anthony Mann
Stars: James Stewart, Ruth Roman
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Romance
Runtime: 88 minutes

The far country of the title is Alaska, where James Stewart, a cold-hearted cattleman, and his sidekick Walter Brennan, a garrulous old codger, drive a herd of cattle to cash in on the gold rush. Stewart is the ultimate loner, a point the film takes pains to paint as he watches helpless miners murdered by a gang of thugs without lifting a finger. John McIntyre plays his nemesis, a magnetic but corrupt Roy Bean-like judge and merchant who preys off the miners passing through his town and steals Stewart's cattle in the name of justice. Stewart, after signing on to lead saloon owner Ruth Roman's wagon train to the mining camp, steals back his herd and makes himself a respectful enemy: "I'm gonna like you. I'm gonna hang you, but I'm gonna like you," grins McIntyre. The rest of the film is a battle for Stewart's soul, between resolute individualism and community activism, between bad woman Roman and good girl Corinne Calvet (one of the film's weakest elements, admittedly, as the sparks between Stewart and Roman are far more exciting than Calvet's silly kewpie doll in flannel). The Far Country is largely shot on studio sets and pulls out familiar Western tropes not usually seen in his films, but Mann brings an edge to the drama with explosions of cold-blooded violence and a brilliant final shootout that plays out on a split-level plain. --Sean Axmaker

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