Man from Laramie [1955]

Genre: Western
Only John Ford excelled Anthony Mann as a purveyor of eye-filling Western imagery, and Mann's best films are second to no one's when it comes to the fusion of dynamic action, rugged landscapes, and fierce psychological intensity. The Man from Laramie is the last of five remarkable Westerns the director made with James Stewart (starting with Winchester '73 and peaking with The Naked Spur). This collaboration marked virtually a whole new career for Stewart, whose characters are all haunted by the past and driven by obsession--here, to find whoever set his cavalry-officer brother in the path of warlike Indians. The Man from Laramie aspires to an epic grandeur beyond its predecessors. It's the only one in CinemaScope, and Stewart's personal quest is subsumed in a larger drama--nothing less than a sagebrush version of King Lear, with a range baron on the verge of blindness (Donald Crisp), his weak and therefore vicious son (Alex Nicol), and another, apparently more solid "son," his Edmund-like foreman (Arthur Kennedy). There are a few too many subsidiary characters, and the reach for thematic complexity occasionally diminishes the impact. But no one will ever forget the scene on the salt flats between Nicol and Stewart--climaxing in the single most shocking act of violence in '50s cinema--or the final, mountaintop confrontation. For decades, the film has been seen only in washed-out, pan-and-scan videos, with the characters playing visual hopscotch from one panel of the original composition to another. It's great to have this glorious DVD--razor-sharp, fully saturated (or as saturated as '50s Eastmancolor could be), and breathtaking in its CinemaScope sweep. --Richard T. Jameson

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