23 March 2015

Blu-ray Review - Man of the West (1958)

Eureka Entertainment
Release Date:
23rd March 2015 (UK)
Rating: 12
Anthony Mann
Gary Cooper, Lee J. Cobb, Julie London
Buy: Man of the West - [Blu-ray]

Anthony Mann is considered by many to be one of the masters of American Cinema to come out of the studio age. He was one of those old time directors who had a crack at pretty much every genre under the sun, but he is best known for his historical epics and most famously his westerns. Man of the West was the second to last western he would direct, and it’s often cited as his finest along with the earlier The Furies.

Man of the West is one of the most startling westerns I’ve seen from the “classic” era of the genre. Around this time (1958) around 20% of films made were westerns -this was before the revisionist westerns of the 60s and onwards. Gary Cooper plays former outlaw Link Jones who has saved some money to help a schoolteacher, but the train he was on gets held up by outlaws. He is stuck with two others passengers and ends up finding his old uncle Dock Tobin (Lee J. Cobb), who he lost contact with after he attempted to go straight, and just happens to be leading the gang of outlaws who hold up the train.

Gary Cooper was as dignified an actor as you can get, he perfectly captures the conflict the role requires. Cooper also has the right level of darkness needed for the film’s sense of dread that runs through it, until the film’s final shootout, which is darker than almost any western of the classic era. Lee J. Cobb’s performance is the kind you sometimes find in westerns where you can almost just smell the liquor on them. The lounge singer Julie London also appears and for a kick check out her version of The Doors’ Light My Fire, you won’t be disappointed.

The late 50s were a period where studio films were becoming darker because of a more sophisticated audience and the initial advent of foreign language films. Man of the West came out in 1958 the same year as two of the darkest film noirs of the era, Vertigo and Touch of Evil. Film noir and the western are two of the most closely linked genres due to their similar themes of violence, masculinity etc. and that’s sometimes forgotten. Man of the West and the earlier Gary Cooper film High Noon are both films influenced by what was happening in film noir, so they have a darker bent to the proceedings. It’s also no surprise Mann, in between his famous westerns, also directed a handful of noirs as well.

Masters of Cinema's release includes a new HD transfer which looks gorgeous in all its Technicolour glory. The two features on the disc are a commentary by Glenn Kenny and Farran Nehme, and a video interview with Douglas Pye. This is finished with a booklet that includes writing by Jean-Luc Godard who was enamoured with the film saying “I have seen nothing so completely new since — why not? — Griffith… With Anthony Mann, one rediscovers the western, as one discovers arithmetic in an elementary maths class. Which is to say that Man of the West is the most intelligent of films, and at the same time the most simple.” Which is very high praise indeed.

Ian Schultz

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