The apprenticeship of Anthony Mann (born Emil Bundesmann)
was quite long: from itinerant theater actor to assistant director for
He debuted with mediocre movies like Dr Broadway (1942),
Moonlight in Havana (1943),
Nobody's Darling (1944),
My Best Gal (1944),
Strangers in the Night (1944).
His first major film was the
noir Great Flamarion (1945), set in the
milieu of the vaudeville.
In a vaudevelle theater of Mexico City the actors and the dancers hear a
gunshot. Then they found the body of a woman, shot dead. The police investigate
and arrest her husband, who was seen having an argument with her.
When everybody has left the theater, an actor finds the body of an old man who
had been hiding in the attic despite being wounded.
Flamarion (Erich von Stroheim) is dying and tells the story of how he was killed.
He was a tyrannical magician specializing in a gunshot trick. He had hired a
beautiful assistant and her husband. The faithful assistant had a murky past
and her husband knew it.
The narrating voice (dying Flamarion's) confesses that he had no friends, he
lived a lonely and pointless life. He focused only on perfecting his act, with
the precision of a manic scientist. He was also a heartless misogynous, having
been betrayed in the past by a woman.
Tired of her husband, an arrogant drunkard, she was determined to seduce
Flamarion, even after she found out his hatred for women.
Eventually she won the old man's heart. As her husband's behavior became more
and more erratic, she insinuated to the old man that an "accident" during his
gunshot trick would allow them to get married.
Flamarion tried to send the husband away by offering him money, but the husband
refused to leave his wife. His wife, in the meantime, was doublecrossing both:
she was secretely in love with an acrobat.
Flamarion eventually couldn't resist anymore. She gave her husband as many
drinks as possible, and Flamarion "missed" when the man made a mistake during
the show. The husband died. At the trial Flamarion was found not guilty because
the whole theater saw that he performed the usual show, and the doctor testified
that the dead man was drunk when he was hit by Flamarion's bullet.
Now the two lovers were technically free. But Flamarion waited in vain for
the woman to show up at the hotel where he had prepared their honeymoon.
He looks for her all over the country. Finally he got the right tip: that she
had fled the country with the acrobat. He chased her south of the border, and
finally found them in a vaudeville theater, performing as acrobatic act.
She shot and wounded him, but he still managed to strangle her before dying.
Then he climbed a ladder and hid in the attic.
Then came the
musical Sing Your Way Home (1945) and
the mediocre farcical detective movie Two O'Clock Courage (1945),
a very brief fast-paced remake of Benjamin Stoloff's Two in the Dark (1936).
A man is bleeding and has lost his memory when he is almost run over by a
cab driven by a pretty girl, Patty.
She believes his story and helps him research his identity.
Even when she learns that the police wants the man for the murder of a
theatrical producer, the woman in
love stays by his side believing his innocence even more than he himself does.
They decide to explore the crime scene and are caught in the act by the dumb
detective in charge of the case and his friend, a petulant reporter.
Patty and the amnesiac pretend to be nosy newlyweds and learn a lot about
the murder, but little that helps the amnesiac figure out who he is and
whether he is the last man who saw the victim and that the butler heard
threaten the victim. They find the manuscript of
a play, "Two O' Clock Courage", written by a Lawrence.
He finally finds out his name when he walks into a night club and is met by
a girl who behaves like an old girlfriend and then by a playwright, Mark,
who is a childhood friend. His nickname is Step and, alas, he had an argument
with the dead producer the day he died and, alas, the girl saw him argue
with him a few hours before the murder.
The news eventually reaches the detective and the reporter. Step finds out
in which hotel he is staying and searches his own room, finding a letter from
the mother of Lawrence who thanks him for helping produce her dead son's play.
The police is now looking for Step as the main suspect in the murder case.
Step decides to return to the crime scene to check the mauscript but someone
shoots him and steals the manuscript. As he is lying wounded on the floor,
suddenly Step recovers his memory. He remembers how he met the dead producer
and received some money for Lawrence's play. Then heard a shot and found the
producer dead. The killer hit him with a gun and he lost his memory.
He can now tell the police that he never argued with the producer: he was
reading lines from the play. But the manuscript has disappeared.
Someone stole it and Step knows who: Mark, who plagiarized it for his hit.
Detective, reporter, Step and Patty rush to Mark's apartment.
Mark denies killing the producer. Asked to get dressed, he seems to commit
suicide. But Step realizes his gun never fired: he was murdered. They find
the murderer in the building: it's Barbara, the star of the play. She killed
the producer because of some compromising love letters.
Throughout the screwball ending the reporter keeps phoning his boss at the
newspaper new versions of the fact.
Now that the murder has been solved, Patty and Step get married for real.
Strange Impersonation (1946) is another significant film noir.
In the film noir Desperate (1947)a honest working-class war veteran has to fight back against a gang of criminals.
Steve, an independent trucker, is a good man and a good husband, heading home
with a gift for his wife. His lovely wife Anne is preparing dinner for their
first anniversary. When he gets home, she tells him that someone called.
Steve calls him. It's someone who offers him a lucrative job if he gives up
his anniversary dinner. His wife agrees that the money is worth postponing
the dinner. It turns out the caller, Walt (Raymond Burr), works for gangsters.
Steve is forced by the gangsters to help with a hold-up. Steve tries to alert
a policeman. The policeman shoots, the gangsters shoot back.
The policeman is killed. One of the gangsters, Walt's brother, is wounded
and arrested. Walt does not hesitate to frame Steve: he calls the police and
gives them the plate number of the truck that was used in the hold-up.
Then he and his men beat him in a dark room, hoping to force him to confess
to the police that he killed the police officer so they will release
Walt's brother. Steve refuses, but Walt
threatens to hurt his wife. Steve escapes and rushes home.
He decides to take his wife to her rural town, where she will be safe.
They take the train. The following day she reads in the newspaper that Steve
is wanted by the police. He tells her that he intends to clarify everything
with the police once she is safe. She tells him a secret that he was supposed
to learn during the dinner: she is pregnant. Steve needs a car to complete
the journey and tries to buy one. Cheated by the car dealer, he steals the
car. The car breaks down, but they are helped by a good man. He gives them
a ride to town and tells them that he is... the sheriff.
When the sheriff hears on the radio of the car theft, he turns the car to
drive them back to the car dealer's town but runs into a tree. They leave
the sheriff unconscious under the tree and take his car to complete the
journey. Now that his wife is finally safe, Steve turns himself in to
Walt has hired a private detective, who has followed Steve and his wife all the
way to the farm, and delivers the address to Walt.
The police detective who interrogates Steve does not believe his incredible
story, especially after he stole two cars, lets him go because he hopes to
capture the entire gang by following him.
His hopes come true when Walt is spotted in town, but the gang escapes after
Steve and his wife flee again, this time on a bus, but they have to stop
at a hospital because his wife is about to have the baby.
While his wife is having the baby, Steve meets a life insurance agent and
gets a life insurance on his wife's name. They settle in town but one day
Steve reads in the newspaper that Walt's brother is about to be electrocuted
for killing the police officer. He doesn't finish reading the article that
someone for a passing car tries to assassinate him.
Steve sends his wife away on a bus. The police detective shows up and tells
Steve that he knows he (Steve) is innocent.
Walk kidnaps Steve: he intends to kill Steve exactly at the same time that
his brother will be electrocuted (midnight).
The police has followed them and attacks. Walt runs away but Steve chases
him up the stairs.
Steve kills Walt, who dies exactly at midnight.
The gangster film Railroaded (1947), unlike Raw Deal and T-Men, did not feature photographer John Alton.
Two armed thieves enter a beauty salon and hold two of the girls. Clara stays
cool and cooperates with the thieves, but the other one screams
and attracts a police officer. In the shootout, one of the bandits is wounded
and the police officer dies. The detective, Mickey, comes to suspect the
brother, Steve, of a girl he likes, Rosie.
When the police arrest the wounded gangster, he confirms that Steve is the
partner who shot the police officer.
When they show Steve to Clara, Clara confirms that he is the one.
Steve still refuses to confess, but he has no alibi.
Only Rosie believes in his innocence.
Rosie goes to confront Clara in her apartment and accuses her of lying.
They fight while Clara's boyfriend Duke is hiding in the other room.
Clara feels guilty that two people were killed, while Duke (the real killer)
only wants to make sure he will not get caught.
Clara and Duke were running an illegal gambling operation in the back of
the beauty salon, and decided to rob the boss. That is why Clara did not
oppose any resistance to the thief: it was Duke himself.
In the meantime, Mickey is beginning to believe Steve because they just cannot
find the gun that killed the police officer.
Both he and Rosie would like to find the other girl who witnessed the robbery,
but Duke has already taken care of her.
Rosie is surprised to be invited to a fancy club
by the mysterious Duke, who pretends to have a tip on the hold-up.
He tries to seduce her.
In the meantime Mickey has found a picture of Duke in the apartment of the
missing girl and, having recognized a known gambler, shows up at the same club
and interrupts their conversation.
The police recovers the body of the missing girl.
Duke and Clara discuss the situation: Clara regrets they robbed the store,
Mickey tells Clara that they found the body of the other girl, and that she,
Clara, could be next if she doesn't dump Duke.
Duke tells Rosie that she found the real killer. It is actually someone he
paid to lie about being the killer. It is a pretext to get an appointment with
her in a place where he can kill her.
Mickey, partly jealous of their dates and partly worried,
warns her that Duke is still seeing Clara.
Clara has changed her mind, calls Mickey and admits that she lied about Steve.
But when Mickey gets to her apartment, Duke has already killed her in cold
The analysis shows that the same gun killed the police officer.
Duke also kills his boss, who ran the gambling operation.
His next target is Rosie. As Duke meets Rosie and points a gun at her,
Mickey drives like a maniac through the city.
He arrives in time to save Rosie and, after a shoot-out, kill Duke.
Raw Deal (1948) is an unusual gangster noir with a love triangle and a female narrator.
A woman, Pat (the female narrator of the film), walks into a prison to visit a
convict. Another woman, Ann, is talking to the convict.
She's a kind, generous social assistant worker who has been trying help reduce
The convinct, Joe, can't wait to get out of jail and take revenge on the
gangsters who betrayed him and framed him.
When it is her turn, the visitor, Pat, whispers to him that everything is set
for his escape. Rick is the boss of the gang that sent him to jail and has
arranged for his escape, but is planning to have him killed during the
break-out, so he doesn't have to pay him the money that he (Rick) owes him (Joe).
At night Pat waits outside. Joe runs out and jumps into her car.
The car breaks down and he has to run. The only place where he can find shelter
is Ann's place and, technically, he kidnaps her (although she hardly resists
him). The three start driving together, heading for a secluded mountain hide-out.
Rick is nervous when he hears that Joe is free and wants his money.
In a fit of rage, he throws boiling alcohol into his girlfriend's face.
At the hide-out, the women argue. Ann is repulsed by Joe's actions, although
she obviously loved him in a Platonic way, while Joe is attracted to her and
hurt by her resentment, and Pat, madly in love with Joe, is angry and
jealous of Ann.
Determined not to pay, Rick sends two trusted hitman to kill Joe.
Joe avoids being killed thanks to Ann, who grabs a gun and kills one of the
gangsters. She then runs away crying, but Joe finds her by the sea and
She can't hide it anymore that she is in love with him.
In the morning Joe trades women: he puts Ann safely into another car, while he
and Pat continue the dangerous journey on his car.
Ann leaves in tears. Pat is cold as usual.
But now Joe has final proof of Rick's betrayal and has to take his revenge.
Pat begs him not to jeopardize everything for a silly sense of justice.
But he can't be stopped. Desperate, she even curses against Ann. Hearing the
curse, Joe instinctively slaps her in the face. Then, ashamed, promises to
In the meantime, the gangsters have kidnapped Ann and
tortured her to find out where Joe is hiding.
She doesn't know, but another informer finds out.
Rick calls Joe to blackmail him with Ann, but Pat picks up the phone and she
tells Rick that it was nothing.
They board a boat and Joe asks the captain to marry them. Pat should be happy
that she is about to get what she has always dreamed, but she can't resist:
she tells Joe that Ann is in the hands of Rick's gangsters.
Joe walks in the fog to Rick's place.
Rick can see the battle between his men and Joe from the window.
Joe makes his way to Rick's room. Rick shoots him. Wounded, Joe still manages
to kill Rick and free Ann, while the building goes on fire.
But the wound is fatal: Joe dies in Ann's arms.
Pat's voice closes the story, commenting the ending while Pat's face is
wrapped in the fog.
Reign of Terror/ The Black Book (1949) is a film noir set during the
Mann turned to the western genre with
Devil's Doorway (1950), about the discrimination suffered by an Indian who has served in the US army.
Lance, an Indian wearing the US uniform and a medal of honor, returns to his
hometown. He is welcomed by the old folks (such as old trapper Zeke) who
remember him as a fine boy, but the new lawyer, Vernon, is a racist who makes
bitter comments on him and spits when Lance meets his old father.
Unlike Lance, who smiles all the time and is optimistic about the future of
the country, his father is disillusioned and very sick.
When Lance runs to call the doctor, the doctor keeps playing cards with
the lawyer, ignoring Lance's pleas. Lance eventually uses force to make
him ride to his father's hut, but it's too late: his father is dead.
Zeke works on his farm and cattle business until be becomes a rich man.
Zeke, now appointed marshall, tries to
explain to Lance that the times have changed and "civilization" has brought
a lot of people who are not interested in Indian rights. At the saloon he is
refused alcohol. The lawyer openly derides him and tells everybody that
the land owned by Lance (the best grazing land in the region) is open for
everybody to grab. In fact he has already spread the rumour among sheepherders
that they can use that land. Since Lance is still standing there among them,
a friend of the lawyer pulls out his gun and humiliates Lance. Lance waits
for the man to use all the six bullets of his gun and then beats him in front
of everybody. The lawyer tries to shoot him but one of Lance's Indians stops
him. None of the saloon's customers says a words. Even Lance's old friend
Zeke stays out of the dispute.
He finds another lawyer to file his claim in his land, and is surprised that
she is a woman, Orrie.
He is her first customer, and her mother thiks it's suicidal to take an Indian
as their first customer. Orrie finds out that an Indian is not entitled to
claim his land because Indians are not considered USA citizens.
Orrie realizes the plight of the Indians and wants to mobilize the good people
of the region to help them. But the evil lawyer has already brought down a
handful of sheepherders from other regions to colonize Lance's land.
He encourages them to use violence in order to get the land they are entitled
to by the law. Lance is forced to shoot at one of them as they trenspass onto
his land. The news of the shooting outrages the citizens, the petition is
denied, the marshall is ordered to escort the sheepherders into Lance's land.
Lance refuses to shoot on his friend Zeke, but is determined to protect his
land from yet another white abuse with the help of his tribe that has left
the reservation to help him. The Indians under his command, armed with
dynamite, attack the sheepherders. The sheriff's men attack the Indians.
The marshall is killed. The evil lawyer is appointed temporary marshall and
organizes a posse to exterminate the Indians. Orrie telegraphs the nearby
fort to send troops. The evil lawyer cannot be stop, though: he orders the
attack against the Indians. After the first wave of attack, the Indians sneak
behind his lines and kill a few of the whites. Lance personally strangles
the evil lawyer. The troops arrive and, heeding Orrie's advice, they stop
the posse and let her go in negotiate with Lance, offering a truce that
would allow the surviving Indians return to their reservation.
Lance refuses and fights on. Finally, he accepts to surrender if the troops
let the women and children return to the reservation. The troops are shocked
to find out that Lance is the only Indian who was still standing, and he dies
of his wounds seconds after surrendering.
It was one of the first westerns to focus on politics and philosophy rather than
action for the sake of action,
Furies (1950) narra l'odio violento che antepone padre e figlia dispotici in un ranch.
T-Men (1947) is a film noir directed in the semi-documentarian style
that was fashionable at the time. The beginning is rather tedious, with
the narrating voice explaining the premise of the film. The story is
mildly realistic and drenched in chiaroscuro atmospheres. But the film
never quite shakes from itself the propagandistic quality.
When an undercover agent (a "treasury man", or "T-man") is killed by the mob while investigating a gang
of counterfeiters, two agents are sent undercover to take his place.
They pretend to be street thugs and become members of a local gang. When they
learn of a Los Angeles connection, one of the two moves west. He manages to
track down the connection and then works his way up to the ladder of the gang,
pretending to be himself into counterfeiting bills thanks to an inexistent
Hungarian engraver. The gang trusts him enough to lend him some of the paper
that they use, and he has it analyzed by the government labs. The analyses
point to an Oriental source and a warning is issued to check all shipments
of paper from China.
His partner is flown into Los Angeles and joins the gang, but one day a
friend who is walking with his own wife recognizes him. He denies knowing
them and his wife, realizing that he is undercover, reproaches the friend.
But it's a fatal encounter: the gang starts investigating him and soon
finds out his true identity. He is executed in front of his partner.
This one continues his mission, and his rise in the ranks of the gang,
getting closer and closer to the very boss while collecting damning evidence.
When the police finds the source of the paper, the chief tells the agent to
get out immediately and tells his men to tail the top expert of the gang.
But it is too late: the agent has already been granted an
interview with the ultimate boss to work out a deal for his fictional
engraver. The boss does not even see him: he judges the plate to be
worthless. The gangsters are ready to kill him, but the agent invokes the
opinion of their best expert, hoping that his fellow police officers are
tailing him. Instead they have lost him. Luckily, the best expert looks at
the plate and gives a favorable opinion. The agent, who was ready to die,
starts breathing again. When they are alone, the expert explains that he lied
to the gang because, just by looking at the plate, he realized that he must
be a T-man. The expert is ready to surrender and testify against the gang.
One of the gangster overhears the conversation and kills the expert. The
agent is also wounded in the shootout. The police storm the place and
arrest the boss: it turns out he is a well-known philanthropist.
Border Incident (1949) is a crime drama about illegal immigration.
Rich landowners in the USA take advantage of an illegal trade in laborers.
Illegal Mexican immigrants are treated like slaves, lured to the USA with the
promise of high wages and then forced to work for even less than the salary in
their own country.
A USA and a Mexican immigration agents go undercover to unravel the scheme. The Mexican
agent is thrown with the other slaves and slowly educates them to the fact
that they are being exploited.
The USA agent pretends to be a criminal willing to sell hundreds of immigration
permits. He is kidnapped by Mexican gangsters and then handed over to the
USA landowner who runs the slave camp. He pretends to make a deal with him
and wires a friend to send the permits.
While he is waiting for the immigration permits to arrive, he meets the
Mexican agent who lives in the huts with the immigrants.
His wire was in reality meant for the police. They follow the man who comes
to pick up the permits at the post office but lose him.
The chief receives his permits and gets ready to dispatch his illegal
immigrants to the various customers who buy them from him in the USA.
But a friend tips him that the criminal is actually in contact with the
immigration authorities. The chief orders his men to execute the secret agent
in the fields.
In the meantime the trucks with the illegal immigrants are starting their trip.
The Mexican agent hijacks his truck and drives back to help the USA agent,
but he doesn't make it in time and sees the gangsters drive over the USA agent
with a plowing machine. The Mexican agent reaches a house and makes a desperate
call for help to the USA police. The only person in the house is a woman and
she fully understands that the Mexican is a police officer. But she grabs a gun
and points at him. Then she calls her husband, who happens to be
the chief's right-hand man. The police is on its way anyway. The gangsters
try to make it through the border carrying their load of immigrants and the
Mexican agent with them, but the latter manages to defeat them and kill them
all. He is then saved by one of the immigrants while he is about to sink
in quicksand. And the USA police arrive to rescue them.
Side Street (1950) is another gangster/noir
A man withdraws a huge sum from the bank.
A mailman, Joe, tells his friend, police officer Charlie, how he dreams of a better life.
As he delivers a letter, he sees a lot of banknotes in the office of an attorney.
The attorney, Victor, is on the phone with a gorgeous woman, Lucille, who is nervous
about their plan, but he reassures her that everything will go well.
The woman is blackmailing a middle-aged man (the man of the first scene,
because of some compromising photos), who comes to pay her the sum.
The following day some fishermen spot a body in the water.
Joe delivers the mail again to the same office but this time he can't resist
taking the money that he saw. When he checks the amount, he realizes that
he has stolen a huge sum (the sum paid by the blackmailed man).
Joe is nervous at home.
He and his pregnant wife live with his in-laws. The father-in-law
is reading the article in the newspaper about a murder.
Joe asks his friend Nick, a bartender, to keep the money for him.
In the meantime, the police investigate the murder: the victim is Lucille,
strangled and dumped in the water.
After several days of guilt, he takes back the package and offers to return it to the man he had stolen it from. It turns out the money had been purloined by Nick. The situation deteriorates as Norson finds himself caught between the killer he stole from (James Craig) and the police. They also interrogate the attorney, who pretends that he barely knew the woman.
Joe, in the meantime, feels guilty. His wife has given birth to their first baby.and he decides to return the money. At the bar Nick the bartender has disappeared, but his package is still there.
Jow takes it to the attorney's office, but, to his surprise, the attorney
denies he was ever robbed.
When the puzzled Joe leaves the office, the attorney explains to his right-hand
man George that admitting the robbery would be admitting the murder of Lucille.
George kidnaps Joe later and takes the package from him, but finds out that
it does not contain the money: Joe realizes that Nick stole the money.
Joe, dumped from the car, tried to find out Nick's new whereabouts. He gets
there too late: George has already strangled Nick.
And there are witnesses who saw Joe looking for Nick, so he is a suspect in
the murder. And the police soon realizes that Nick was strangled by the same
person who strangled Lucille. The other suspect is George, who is quickly
identified as the other man who was looking for Nick.
He visits his wife at the hospital and tells her that he needs
to find George. Joe threatens a bank clerk to find out if anyone withdrew
that sum of money, and learns the name and address of the blackmailed man.
But George got there first: the man is dead, and the police is arriving.
The police detective has realized that the attorney knew George too, which
Joe is living in the streets, running away from the police and looking for George.
His next lead is a photograph that was in the package of a gorgeous singer,
Harriette, George's former girlfriend. Joe tracks her down and she takes him
to George. George thanks her for delivering Joe to him and then strangles her.
George is taking Joe to the waterfront to dispose of him, but the police has
followed their trail and is waiting for them. After a high-speed car chase
(during which the brutal George does not hesitate to kill his own driver who is panicking),
the police kill George and finally retrieve the money. Joe is only wounded.
The Tall Target (1951) is a rather mediocre detective film set in the
At the beginning of the Civil War, with the public opinion divided over the
president elect Lincoln, a humble detective, John, learns of a plot to
assassinate Lincoln. His superior is indifferent (and possibly delighted)
at the news. John resigns and decides to foil the plot.
His friend, and inspector, has already boarded the train with their tickets,
but John cannot find him. John eventually finds his dead body: the inspector
has been murdered. John returns to his seat only to find that a stranger is
wearing his coat and therefore his ticket and his gun.
He swears to the conductor that be is the real John.
The conductor asks John to identify himself and John has to ask a Northern
colonel for help: he was at the meeting with his superior and has decided
to help him. When the train stops, the stranger catches John off guard and
escorts him in a place where he can conveniently kill him. He killed the
inspector by accident, mistakening him for John. John manages to disarm him
and tries to extort from him the name of the sender. The colonel seems them
fighting and kills the stranger, thus saving John's life (but also eliminating
an important witness).
John keeps an eye on the passengers, trying to find out who might be planning
to kill Lincoln. Danger is near him: the Northern colonel himself tries to
assassinate John, but John had disabled the gun. At the first stop John
tries to have the colonel arrested, taking advantage of the fact that the
train is being delayed for one hour, but instead the chief of police telegrams
that it is John who has to be investigated (for the murder of the inspector)
and the colonel can continue undisturbed his journey.
While John is being
escorted out of the station, the young black slave Rachel of a Confererate soldier
tries to talk to him. John frees himself and jumps on the train again.
Now he is also hunted by the police. Rachel lets him hide in her compartment
and tells him that the Confederate soldier has lied about his destination
even to his sister Ginny. Ginny finds and holds John, and her brother stops
her from turning him over to the police: Ginny realizes that John is right
about her brother being one of the conspirators. The Confederate brings John,
unconscious, to the Northern colonel's compartment.
At the following station they learn that Lincoln has canceled his speech and
therefore their plot is pointless. The colonel gets off the train but then,
as the train restarts, he realizes that they have been fooled: the train was
delayed by one hour to allow Lincoln to board it. The colonel manages to
alert the Confederate, who is still on board. But John has freed himself
and eventualy throws the Confederate off the train. Lincoln is safe, and
is indeed traveling on that train.
His first western masterpiece was
Winchester '73 (1951), which also marked the beginning of his collaboration with actor
The film is the fresco of a violent and merciless society, in which peace is restored only through force.
(Translated by DeepL from my original Italian text)
James Stewart arrives with his partner in a small town where, to celebrate the Fourth of July, a contest has been held with a prestigious Winchester 73 rifle up for grabs. The sheriff disarms them as guns are prohibited in the town. In the saloon Stewart meets one of his arch-enemies. The two end up tied in a shooting contest, and only a prodigious shot awards Stewart the victory. But the other ambushes him and steals the coveted prize, aided by two accomplices. The three fugitives meet a renegade who sells guns to Native Americans. The renegade wins the winchester. At night the renegade is killed by the Native American chief with whom he trades, who takes the weapon. A man and woman are attacked by Native Americans; he abandons her in the buggy, saying he is going for help. When he spots cavalry coming, he goes back to get her. Stewart and his friend the captain spend the night there. At dawn the Native Americans attack, but Stewart leads the soldiers and the Native Americans are put to flight. When Stewart is already gone, a soldier discovers the Native American chief's dead body and Winchester 73. The captain gives it to the coward who had almost abandoned the woman. The latter accompanies her to the village. The two stop at a house, the mistress of which offers hospitality. Four bandits who know the man break in. The bandits are pursued by the sheriff's men, who surround the house. The bandits refuse to let the mistress and children out: it is the girl who intercedes for their release. The bandit notices the Winchester. The coward does not want to sell it to him, but the bandit humiliates him until the latter wields the gun. Having killed the coward, the bandit flees, taking the girl and the gun with him. Stewart continues the hunt for his personal enemy, a hunt that has lasted since the latter killed their common master, their father. The bandit takes the girl to the outlaws' hideout, where the chief awaits him: Stewart's enemy. The chief takes back his rifle and explains his plan to storm the bank. Stewart and his friend arrive at the saloon. Stewart realizes his enemy is there, but the enemy manages to deflect in the gunfight and hits the woman who is protecting a child. Stewart sets off in pursuit into the desert. Duel among the rocks: Stewart wins, takes the Winchester and then the girl.
The character at the center of
Bend of the River (1952) is a reformed
outlaw who wants to be an idealist, but, no matter how far he goes and how hard
he tries, fate is against him.
Emerson is a Shakespeare-ian type: his past does not hunt him (he hardly feels
any remorse for his crimes) but it is he himself who reveals his past to the
people who will judge him and may reject him, and he does so in order to save their
lives, their project, and to become part of them/it. Precisely because he wants
to be one of them, he gives them the reason to reject him.
Glyn (John Stewart) is escorting a caravan of farmers towards the Far West,
through vast valley and forests against the backdrop of majestic mountains.
As he is checking the trail, he meets a group of people who are about to
gang a horse thief. He pulls out the gun and force them to let him go.
He doesn't know the man: he's against hanging. When they introduce each
other, they realize they have never heard of each other. Neither has a clean
record. Glyn, in particular, is a famous outlaw, but he now declares that
he wants to settle down with the farmers.
When the Indians attack the wagons, Emerson can return the favor by saving
Emerson finds it hard to believe that someone like Glyn truly wants to become
a farmer, but Glyn is dead serious about changing life.
The caravan reaches a riverport town, where they are welcome by the good
citizens. Unlike the stereotypical pioneer town, this town is pretty,
neat, safe, lively, prosperous, friendly.
The leader of the farmers, Jeremy, signs a deal to have supplies ready for the fall.
In the meantime, Glyn and Emerson meet handsome gambler Trey, who decides to
challenges the town's chief gambler. Right when the latter recognizes Emerson
as an outlaw, Trey accuses him of cheating. A shootout ensues in which Emerson
kills the man. Emerson then decides to part ways from the caravan, because he
is more interested in trying his luck in California.
Jeremy's young attractive daughter, Laura, who was wounded by the Indians, also remains in town.
The farmers board a steamboat and head north. They reach their land and start
building. Months later, they have two worries: the supplies have not arrived,
and they have not heard from Laura. So Glyn and Jeremy ride down to town.
The town has changed dramatically. It has become a violent, noisy and dirty
place. Gold has been found. People have become greedy.
Prices have skyrocketed. The supplies are
at the dock, but they are now worth a fortune, and the trader wants to sell
them to others who are willing to pay a lot more than what the farmers
At the saloon, Glyn finds both Emerson and Trey, and learns that Laura now
works as the cashier of the saloon and is Emerson's girlfriend.
Glyn always pretended he didn't care about Laura, but resents the events,
and sends Laura to the dock to tell her father that she doesn't want to be
a farmer anymore (she's been corrupted by Emerson).
Glyn confronts the trader (and owner of the saloon) about the supplies,
but he wouldn't get anything without a shootout and the help of Emerson
and Trey. The three men run to the dock, where Jeremy has loaded
the supplies on the steamboat with the complicity of the steamboat captain
and with the help of a bunch of hired misfits.
The steamboat sails off, despite the men of the trader shooting at them.
Jeremy disapproves of Laura's engagement to Emerson, because he thinks that
outlaws never change, but getting the supplies to the settlement is a higher
priority. The men of the trader catch up with them, but Glyn, Trey and
Emerson easily defeat them. When the hired misfits try to steal the supplies,
Emerson saves the caravan. But Jeremy still refuses to accept Emerson because
of his past.
This is Emerson's excuse for staging a new, and more serious, mutiny. He,
Emerson in person, leads the misfits who attack Glyn and steal the supplies.
Those supplies are worth a lot because of the gold rush, and manage to
corrupt even friendship. As Emerson departs with the loot (and an ashamed
Laura and a wounded Jeremy), Glyn swears
revenge. Laura is ashamed, but has no choiceremains with her father and Glyn.
Glyn left him no gun but he starts following them at a distance. And he starts
eliminating the traitors one by one. Eventually, Emerson loses control and
starts beating the old Jeremy. Trey tries to stop him and Emerson shoots him
(but only wounds him). Emerson and the misfits go look for Glyn, and Glyn
surprises everybody by stealing the caravan with the help of Laura, Jeremy
and Trey. Trey and Jeremy annihilate the men, but Glyn has to fight it out
with Emerson in the river. As Emerson's body is dragged away by the waters,
Glyn reemerges as the winner.
But in the fight he has lost his cravat, and now Jeremy can see what it was
hiding: the marks of an attempted hanging. Glyn has to confess that he too
was an outlaw. But the stern Jeremy forgives him and still accepts him in
This sets the tone for the other westerns. It is a poem of imposing nature,
but it is also a tragedy of human passions. The characters descend from the
genre's cliches, but new psychological facets appear: neurosis, duplicity,
Naked Spur (1953) emphasizes the neurotic aspect of Mann's hero: James
Stewart here is a man with a damaged psyche in search of an identity (he suffers of
nightmares, loses control, breaks down in tears).
A cold loner, Howard (John Stewart), meets an old gold digger, Jesse, in a forest and
hires him to help him track down a Kansas killer. They find the man, who is hiding on
the top of a hill. At that moment, a well-dressed deserter, Roy, shows up to inquire
about the shooting.
Howard, who appears to be a typical greedy bounty hunter, is determined to
catch the killer at the risk of his own life. The deserter helps him capture
the outlaw, Ben, who keeps laughing even while he is being tied up,
despite the strenous opposition of the young wild girl who is with him, Lina,
who claims that Ben is innocent of the murder.
Now that they know he is a bounty hunter, the gold digger and the deserter
demand a third of the bounty and decide to accompany him to the city.
Howard can't refuse, but then spends all the time distrusting the deserter,
and knowing that the girl wants to free the prisoner.
Ben knows Howard from Kansas, and brings back facts that hurt him: there is
behind Howard's tough and cold behavior.
Eventually they realize that Indians are following them, and the deserter
confesses that they are looking for him: he raped one of their women.
The deserter proves his cowardice by attacking the Indians while Howard
was trying to talk to them, and causing a shoot-out. Howard risks his life
to defend the woman and the prisoner. He gets wounded by an Indian
and this time it is the girl who helps him take shelter.
During the night Howard is delirious, and the girl hears him talk to his
fiance', and understands that she didn't wait for him when he went soldier.
When he wakes up, Howard hears that the girl has been sleepless nursing him.
The girl, who initially only wanted to help the prisoner escape, is getting
attached to Howard, now that she knows his secret dream. She tells him that
she is not his lover, but only someone whom he helped when she was
left alone, an orphan. She dreams of a ranch, and Howard laughs at the idea
that Ben would settle down in a ranch. She retaliates that he, Howard, has
become a despicable and heartless bounty hunter. But they do share the same
Howard doesn't trust his partners and continues the trip despite his wound.
The old gold digger is an honest man, but naive. The prisoner, always smiling,
tries to pitch his captors one against the other, and causes Howard to fall
from his horse and further hurt his wound.
The micro-community of the five people continues its lonely journey through the
mountains, the rivers and the forests.
The journey becomes a psychological game.
One night Howard is romancing Lina. He basically proposes to her and she lets him kiss her. Ben takes advantage and tries to grab a gun.
Howard stops him in time. Then, furious, almost shoots him dead. Roy would,
but Jesse stops him. Howard thinks that Lina was being tender with him just
to help Ben escape: one more betrayal from a woman. He hates Ben out of
jealousy, because he believes Ben is now the reason he can't have his dream
(a ranch with Lina).
Tempers flare again later, when Roy and Howard get at each other's throat,
and Ben watches them smiling. Howard barely avoids being killed by Roy.
The prisoner manages to convince the old man to free him in return for the
secret of a gold mine. Ben, Lina and Jesse take off, but then Ben kills the
unarmed Jesse despite Lina's protestations. Ben kills him because he wants
to set a trap for the others: he knows they will come as they hear the
shots, and will approach the cadaver. He is ready to kill them both,
but Lina has learned Ben's true, murderous nature, and she fights Ben
when he is about to pull the trigger. Bitten by a snake, he is killed by Roy.
Ben's body falls into the rapids, and Roy dies in the desperate attempt to
rescue it (for the bounty) while Howard's first instinct is to check if
Lina is all right. Howard instead succeeds in recovering the corpse,
determined to get the money he needs to start a new life.
Now she accepts his proposal. And he breaks down, disgusted that he is about
to sell a dead body for money.
By now, Mann's westerns had a clear structure. Mann was a master of detailing the
psychology and maturation of his characters. His "evil" characters were not simply evil:
their negative personas were justified in the light of a complex society.
Mann was also a master of using the landscape, with an austere visual style, to symbolize the link between humans and nature.
His films rely on grandiose dramatic constructs despite the fact that the plots are weak.
(Translated by DeepL from my original Italian text)
Far Country (1954) is the odyssey of a cowboy who is taking his herd to Canada. The film is a parable of nomadic individualism that accepts sedentary, communal living when it recognizes the benefits. It is also a pretext for depicting the enthusiasms and uncertainties of the new lands, boundless landscapes and pioneer villages, a portrait so faithful to the Frontier that it could be a documentary. At the center of the film is a neagtive hero, a loner by choice, grumpy, cynical, selfish, insensitive to women, who aims solely to achieve his goal. His elderly partner is his moral voice: he has the courage to say what pride prevents the hero from thinking. The hero leads his small troop through valleys and mountains, convinced that he can do without everyone, insensitive to friendship.
(Translated by DeepL from my original Italian text)
The first part is descriptive: the pace is slow, the plot develops casually, personalities come into focus. The second part, on the other hand, is pure action.
At the turn of the century, in the gold rush years, cowboy Jeff (John Stewart) and his elderly partner Ben arrive in the last town before the Canadian border in search of fortune. Ben, who acts like a sweetheart, tells everyone that they plan to buy a house in Utah.
The town sheriff, the bully who terrorizes the region, demands a toll to let him pass through and, upon his refusal, seizes his herd. Instead of running away, Jeff settles in the village, determined to get his ill-gotten gains back at the first opportunity. A masculine young girl, Renee`, falls in love with him. He takes advantage of an equally tough and headstrong woman, Ronda, who needs a helper, to leave the country. He then returns at night with his partner and steals the herd. The sheriff pursues them, but Jeff kills three of his men and holds off the others until his men and the herd cross the border into Canada. The sheriff stops at the border, wishes them well, and promises to hang them when they return to the village (there is no other method of return). Renee` joins them.
They arrive in Alaska in a town where people eat bear meat because there is a shortage of cows, and the saloon woman wants to buy their herd, but makes the mistake of offending Ronda, who takes revenge by buying the herd from Jeff at a higher price than the saloon can afford.
Having sold the herd, Jeff and Ben get back on the road.
The two arrive in a community that has just been formed. In the saloon they meet again the sheriff, who has no jurisdiction here but tries to expand his empire using a famous gunslinger as a weapon. Jeff and Ben witness a cold-blooded murder: a poor man demands that the gunslinger pay his debt, and the gunslinger kills him without giving him a chance. Ben is upset, but Jeff is completely unconcerned. When the community sheriff, Rube, a friend of Jeff and Ben, shows up to arrest the murderer, a celebrated gunslinger, Jeff intimates that he should let it go, humiliating him in front of the whole town rather than help him against the gunslinger. Indifferent to the fate of the community, Jeff prefers to go off prospecting for gold with his old man, the only human being he can stand.
But they do not get very far. A gang led by the same gunslinger pounces on them as they are camping by a lake. The old man is killed and Jeff, badly wounded, returns to the village to seek help. Ronda prevents the gunslinger from coldcocking him in public, and Renee` is the only one who steps forward to help him. Renee` has settled in the village and shares a house with Rube, who has become a drunkard, however.
The overbearing sheriff has a plan to take over the entire community. The residents are warned that their property now belongs to him. Renee` leads a delegation to the saloon to protest, but the sheriff laughs in their faces. Jeff still has a bandaged arm and can do nothing. The pioneers, demoralized by the bully`s overbearance, decide to leave the town. Jeff is no longer so indifferent to the fate of the poor people, but there is nothing he can do now. Ronda, disgusted by what is happening, confesses her love for him, making Renee`, who rescued and cared for him, jealous.
Jeff slings his rifle and announces that he will defend Renee`s property. Announced by the bell that Ben had given him and hung from his saddle, Jeff advances toward the saloon. The gunslinger and his men have prepared a trap, but Jeff is not on the horse, and he easily eliminates them. Now the sheriff is ready to kill him. Ronda tries to warn him, but the sheriff kills her. Jeff avenges her.
Inspired by Jeff, the town`s men take up arms and drive all the gangsters out of the town. Renee` hugs him.
The Man From Laramie (1955)
boasts dramatic and psychological tension worthy of a Greek tragedy,
replete with hatred between siblings, patricide, and ancestral revenge.
Stewart is the stranger who arrives to disrupt a community seemingly stable but actually governed by a precarious and fictitious balance. After his coming, nothing can ever be the same: neither the young woman's love for the superintendent nor the old woman's virile certainty.
Mann's style is classic in his frescoing of the patriarchal community and in the big western scenes (gunfights, brawls, chases). In the unfolding Mann is indebted to the detective novel, the psychological novel, and the Bible. This is the classic western hero, characterized by two elements: the spirit of revenge and the contrast/harmony with the great outdoors.
(Translated by DeepL from my original Italian text)
Stewart was an army captain at Fort Laramie. His brother died in an Indian massacre Stewart sets out from Laramie as a wagon train guide to find the renegade who avenges the guns to the Indians. Stewart arrives at a village dominated by an old despot who has managed to drive out all rivals and befriend the Indians. Stewart is immediately attacked by the patriarch's son, an arrogant coward who catches him by surprise, burns his wagon train wagons, and orders him to leave. Stewart instead stays and at the first opportunity retaliates by beating the boy. The father compensates him for the damage his son caused him, but he too orders him to leave. The old man is ill, but he is still a harsh and ruthless tyrant. The old man lives only for his son, but the one who runs the ranch is the superintendent, who is engaged to the old man's granddaughter, who runs a store. In the old man's words he feels death is near and a fate that makes him unhappy. The old man rules those lands and lives in peace even with the belligerent Apaches. Yet an entire cavalry division has been slaughtered by the Apaches, and the mystery to be unraveled is who sold them the repeating rifles. The superintendent is a good man, attached to the land, who hopes to receive the ranch as an inheritance and then marry the scion's cousin.
Stewart is attacked by a hitman. Stewart gets rid of him, but the hitman is found dead, and Stewart is charged with his murder. The old man goes to talk to him in his cell and confides in him about a recurring dream in which a stranger kills his son. That is why the old man wants Stewart out of the country. The son is a villain who wants to get rid of the superintendent. The old man is going blind and confides in the superintendent: he is afraid that enemies and foreigners will take advantage of this to steal his land. The son eavesdrops and is envious, and suspects that the superintendent covets the inheritance of the whole ranch. Stewart is not intimidated and accepts a position as superintendent on the ranch of the old maid who has been the only one to stand up to the old man for years. The son tries to kill Stewart, but Stewart disarms him by wounding him in the hand. Men from the ranch arrive and pin Stewart down: the young man has him held down and coldly shoots him in the right hand. Cowardly and stupid, he has now lost everyone's esteem. Then the young man leaves them and goes to deliver two hundred rifles to the Indians for them to attack the spinster's ranch and thus complete their revenge against Stewart, heedless of the women and children who will be slaughtered in the village.
The superintendent, his accomplice, tries to reason with him and stop him, but the young man is mad and would kill him if the superintendent did not shoot first. The son is shot dead. The two women, the old maid and the old man's granddaughter, the superintendent's fiancée, treat Stewart, and the girl discovers that she has fallen in love with Stewart. The superintendent takes the corpse to the ranch, but he does not have the courage to tell the old man the truth, and, after the funeral, the old man goes to avenge his son's death, convinced by his dream that Stewart is the murderer. But he is blind, and Stewart takes pity on him. Stewart disarms him and swears his innocence. Doing some math, the old man discovers that his son was buying something on the side, and he wants to find out what. The superintendent, who knows that it was weapons for the Indians, wants to prevent him, but in vain. The old man decides to track down the wagon with the 200 rifles. The superintendent tries to stop him, because he does not want him to find out the truth, and in the scuffle the old man rolls into a ravine. Meanwhile, Stewart is also on the wagon's trail and thus discovers the old man's body. Stewart takes him to the spinster's ranch.
The old man is saved but remains blind. The superintendent has always done his duty to the old man, and now he does not want to lose what he is entitled to: that land. Stewart is certain that the old man was thrown down, but the old man does not speak. To take revenge on his son's murderer, the old man does not hesitate to reveal to Stewart that the superintendent is the man who sold rifles to the Indians. Stewart sets out on his hunt to finally carry out his revenge, even though the man is the boyfriend of the beautiful young woman who has helped him so much. Stewart finds him just as he is about to deliver the rifles to the Indians. Stewart forces him to destroy them, but then does not have the courage to kill him. The Indians arrive. Stewart destroys the wagon. The Indians, thinking the superintendent has betrayed them, kill him, with the very rifles the superintendent had sold them. Justice is done. The old man and the old woman marry. The cousin promises to pass by Laramie....
The Last Frontier (1956), also known as Savage Wilderness,
is his only cavalry Western.
Two Irish trappers, Gus and Jed, and their "Indian" scout Mongo are stopped by
a tribe. The chief
tells them that they are no longer welcomed and takes both their rifles and
their horses. The reason is that the cavalry has invaded their land and
cut trees to build a fort. The trappers are as outraged as the natives
by the intrusion of "civilized" man. They are tired of their nomadic life,
though, and the captain of the fort convinces them to enlist as scouts.
They celebrate their new life by getting drunk, and Jed stumbles into the
house of the colonel's beautiful wife Corinna (Anne Bancroft). She tells him
that the colonel is out on a mission to another fort. He tells her that
the natives have probably already killed her husband, because that other fort
is deep into their territory. She calls him an animal and kicks him out.
The following day he learns that the captain has sent his pals to the doomed
fort. Furious, Jed leaves the fort and reaches his friends.
Sure enough the fort has been overrun by the natives, and the colonel had
to hide in the forest, where he found them. The colonel is an obnoxious
idiot, who is determined to retake the fort and orders Jed to return to
his fort and ask for reinforcement. Jed laughs at his determination because
his soldiers are inexperienced rookies, whereas the natives are experienced
The colonel has to accept defeat and take his men to Jed's fort. There he
orders the much more reasonable captain of the fort to obey his orders:
train the inexperienced man so that they can retake his fort.
He comes through as a despicable human being, who is desperate to command
r espect at any cost. That's also what he tells his faithful wife.
The colonel seems on a quest to regain his self-respect after having lost
a battle in the civil war.
The captain has no choice but to obey. Hearing from Jed that another tribe
might join Red Clouds' tribe, the colonel plans to attack as soon as
possible. Gus thinks that the snow is overdue, and the snow would stop the
natives anyway. The doctor joins the captain in telling him that his plan amounts
to suicide because the soldiers are untrained. His own wife is upset and
walks out of a meeting. Jed is outside, grabs her and kisses her.
She drops any pretense of dignity and listens to Jed's proposal of taking her
away and marrying her before her husband has them all killed. She makes love
to him. The older Gus warns Jed that she can cause him a lot of trouble.
In the meantime the good captain secretely sends Mongo to another fort to ask
for real orders that could override the colonel's orders.
The colonel insists on Jed taking him to see where Red Clouds is camped.
Jed does so but the colonel falls into a trap. Jed laughs at him and asks
him to cancel the attack. The colonel refuses and Jed decides to leave him
to die in the hole. When he returns to the fort alone, though, he learns
two tough lessons. First, the captain is ready to hang him, because discipline
is more important than reason, and Jed just caused the death of a commanding
officer. Second, Corinna is now disgusted by him. Jed leaves the fort again
and rescues the colonel from the hole.
The colonel orders one of this officers to kill Jed in his sleep, but Jed
is alert and, after a long fight on the roof, kills the officer. The colonel
orders the captain to arrest and hang Jed for killing an officer. The captain,
though, hesitates to shoot and Jed can flee the fort. The day of the attack
the captain is still hoping to stop the colonel. Mongo comes back with the
reply from the general: the general denied the captain's request. The colonel
is actually impressed by the captain's guts and leaves him in charge of
the fort (and therefore of his wife) while he marches out, led by Gus.
Mongo brings the news to Jed, who is hiding in the forest.
Jed joins the attacking cavalry to avenge the death of his friend Gus and
becomes their leader after the colonel is killed. He leads them back to
the fort. It starts snowing. The natives have to retreat. The danger is over.
Jed rejoins the cavalry. And Corinna is now a widow...
The Tin Star (1957)
is Mann's most nostalgic and autumnal film. Once again a disillusioned old hero performs one last feat on behalf of civilization. The film is decidedly minor, rather slow and predictable. It jumbles together typical Western themes (the lone hero, the pair of the expert and the rookie, the sheriff who must protect the criminal from lynching), and examines them from the point of view of a "veteran" of gunfights, from the point of view of a man who has attained wisdom precisely by living those stereotypes.
Henry Fonda is a bounty hunter who arrives in a town carrying the corpse of a gangster. He delivers it to the inexperienced sheriff who is trying to learn how to use guns and then looks for a place to sleep. The town greets him with distrust and hostility. The only one to offer him a room is a widow who lives on the edge of town with her viscous son. Fonda is himself a widower: he lost both his wife and son The woman is ostracized by the town because her husband was an Indian. Fonda witnesses a scene that reveals to him the situation in the village: the farrier kills a man in cold blood, the sheriff tries to arrest him, the sheriff almost gets killed. He is saved by Fonda himself, who disarms the farrier with a shot from a distance. But it was a futile gesture: all witnesses are on the side of the farrier, whom the judge therefore sets free. Anarchy reigns in the town. The sheriff's fiancée is the daughter of the old sheriff, who was killed. She begs him to resign because she does not want a life as a widow.
Fonda is a cynic who just wants to cash in his money and get back on the road. He was also sheriff, but, disappointed with the men he served, became a bounty hunter. The young and inexperienced sheriff visits his widow and asks him for help. Fonda trains him to survive, administering some of his wisdom. But their friendship irritates the villagers, and some begin to demand the sheriff's resignation. Instead, the young man is determined to do his duty. When the bounty money arrives, the townspeople urge Fonda to leave the town. Fonda has no intention of staying. The stagecoach has been attacked and the sheriff must organize a "posse" to pursue the bandits. The good doctor of the town, who is like a second father to the sheriff, is murdered by the same bandits on the very day of his birthday, which the whole town is ready to celebrate: the buggy returns to the town parading through two wings of festive crowds, but he is dead. A large posse is immediately organized to avenge the doctor. Fonda would like to stay out of it, but the widow's baby is missing and Fonda finds it right in the area where the posse is hunting down the bandits to kill them. The sheriff and Fonda find themselves alone against the bandits, and the sheriff is determined to arrest them alive, as the law requires. Fonda succeeds in arresting them alive.
The arrest humiliates the posse, however. Fonda commands the hotheads who want a lynching. The sheriff protects the criminals, who are entitled to a trial. Fonda is the only one who stands by him. The sheriff, who has become a man, fearlessly confronts the farrier and kills him.
Fonda leaves in a buggy, taking the widow and child with him.
Man Of The West (1958) is another film that focuses on the old hero who is looking for peace but has to return one last time to the battlefield.
The film's protagonist is the most desperate violence: the reluctant hero must kill all the bandits in order to continue to be a decent person. The old man must send everyone to slaughter and succumb to the end of an era. And so forth.
There are hatreds brooded since childhood between cousins that erupt now that the old despot's authority is faltering. The old man is a fierce and pathetic figure, needing his godson back by his side, even though deep down he knows it's his Judas. He lives outside of time, commanding an assault on a bank that hasn't existed for years. Then there is the platonic relationship between Cooper, married with children, and the pudgy adventurer, a hopeless failure.
(Translated by DeepL from my original Italian text)
The train on which James Cooper is traveling is attacked by bandits. Cooper, briefly recognized by a sheriff who cannot remember his name, however, says he is on his way to recruit a teacher for his village, and an elderly traveler is trying to swindle him with the help of a showgirl. Cooper, the singer, and the elderly charlatan are dropped off on the tracks and head for the first village. Cooper recognizes him and says he once lived there. The three are taken prisoner and taken to the shack where a band of outlaws has relegated themselves. Cooper is now an honest farmer who takes the community's savings to the bank, but he had once been a bandit himself, and the crooks he runs into are his uncle's own, the man who considered him his right-hand man, and whom he "betrayed" by running away and becoming honest. The uncle is torn between nostalgia, a desire to get back together like the good old days, and the blatant reality that Cooper actually did not come back for him. Cooper actually pretends that he wants to join them to save himself and others and protect the girl from the bullying of a bandit. The cousin has it all figured out and would kill him if respect for the elderly chief did not hold him back. After they steal his hoard, Cooper has no choice: he must succeed in routing them or he cannot return home, where they would believe him to be a repeat thief.
The old man organizes an assault on the bank and sends Cooper and another forward. But the town is deserted and the bank no longer exists. The other has received orders from his cousin to kill him after the heist; he tries immediately but Cooper prevails. He waits for the others to come and finish the job. In the shootout Cooper has the upper hand. Back at the wagon, he finds, however, that the old man has raped the girl and is ready for the final confrontation: he evidently foresaw everything and voluntarily went to self-destruction. He staggers drunk, rolls down the ravine and kills himself. On him Cooper finds the bag of money that had been stolen.
In Night Passage (1957), which was completed by James Neilson,
deals with a working-class hero.
The story is told in a rather amateurish way, with sudden jumps.
Grant (James Stewart) is an ex-railroad employee who is bitter because the
railroad fired him unjustly.
In town, he meets Charlotte, a nice woman who is in touch with the Utica Kid.
Now the boss wants to hire him again for a
difficult mission: bring the payroll money to the railroad men who are working
against the time to complete the railway.
A lady wishes him well: she married the boss, but before he got fired she
was engaged to him.
Grant gets on the train, accompanied by a kid he rescued on the way,
and begins his trip, watched by the boss' right man who doesn't trust him.
On the train the kid talks about the legendary gunslinger, the Utica Kid.
The Utica Kid is Grant's brother.
His gang decides to attack the train. They don't find it, but take the boss'
wife hostage, kidnap the child and throw Grant off the train. The boss reaches
the railroad camp alone, without the money.
The gang has reached their hideout.
The Utica Kid is an unlikely outlaw: a sweet intelligent gentleman.
His rival within the gang is Whitey, a gross, arrogant fool.
They almost shoot each other the lady, but the Utica Kid knows that it is
precisely what she wants them to do.
They don't know that they actually have the money: it's in a shoebox that Grant
gave to the child.
Both Grant and Charlotte are following the gang: Charlotte wants to save
the Utica Kid's life, Grant wants the money back.
Grant pretends that he wants to join the gang. Then tells the Utica Kid the
truth and tries to redeem him, but in vain. Charlotte tries too, using
the argument of marriage, but, again, in vain.
A spy recognizes Grant as the man hired to carry the payload, and hell
breaks loose. The Utica Kid runs away with the child (and the money).
Grant chases him with the two women. The gang chases Grant. The Utica Kid
watches as the gang surrounds Grant. The child runs to help Grant and gets
wounded. Finally, the Utica Kid pulls out the gun and goes to help his
brother: he has been the kid brother all the time, and this is the first
time that he can live up to his elder brother.
The two brothers now fight together against the remaining members of the gang,
led by Whitey. At the end, Whitey kills the Utica Kid, and Grant kills Whitey.
Grant buries his brother and brings the money to the railroad camp.
The railroad hires him back. Charlene and Grant hug, watching the child.
God's Little Acre (1958) was a mediocre adaptation of Erskine Caldwell's novel.
Cimarron (1960) is a remake of a 1931 film, directed by Wesley Ruggles
from a novel by Edna Ferber, a rather mediocre and uninspired film,
the worst western that Mann directed.
Mann died in 1967.
Mann's heroes are neurotic beings, tormented by doubt, unsatisfied, scarred by an eternal past and catapulted defenselessly into an unknown and hostile present.
The grandiose, paradisiacal setting only accentuates their isolation, their harrowing search for peace.
Instead, chance rages against their poor lives, forcing them to continually resort to justice.
The absurd harmony of the world, which projects dark human tragedy against such wonderful backgrounds, makes all the stories "natural": they are not exceptional episodes, but ordinary lives. Every man is condemned to this perpetual struggle. Mann's moral parables rise to reflections on human history, set in the immense space of his natural habitat: the Earth.