Man of the West

100 minutes

This late CinemaScope western (1958) by the great Anthony Mann achieves a tragic intensity and a monumental scenic splendor despite some serious handicaps: a stagy villain (Lee J. Cobb), an awkward lead actress (Julie London), and a screenwriter accustomed to working with confined spaces (TV dramatist Reginald Rose), none of whom complement the film's quintessentially cinematic hero (Gary Cooper in one of his last and best performances). Cooper plays a reformed outlaw with a wife and kids (whom we never see); accidentally reunited with the gang he despised (including Jack Lord of TV's Hawaii Five-O and Royal Dano of Johnny Guitar), he pretends to plan a new bank robbery in order to protect a saloon singer (London) and a card sharp (Arthur O'Connell). Mann, a master of framing figures against the landscape—a farmhouse in a valley, a mountain range, an eerie ghost town—and of subtly charting various kinds of psychological warfare, is so inventive in his treatment of this grim tale that he anticipates Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura, released two years later.

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