In 1953 Jimmy Stewart made two films with Anthony Mann, The Naked Spur and Thunder Bay. Universal-International Studios made Thunder Bay as their first widescreen movie with a 1.85 to 1 aspect ratio. Another first for the studio was the use of stereophonic sound. The cast included Joanne Dru, Gilbert Roland, Harry Morgan, and Dan Duryea. The director wasn’t the only long-time partnership Stewart had in this film. Harry Morgan had already starred in Bend of the River with Stewart and would later appear with him in The Glenn Miller Story, The Far Country, and Strategic Air Command. Dan Duryea had already been in Winchester ’73 alongside Stewart and would go on to appear with him in Night Passage and Flight of the Phoenix.
Steve Martin (Stewart) and Johnny Gambi (Duryea) are on the coast of Louisiana with their dreams at stake. After they get the support of an oil tycoon they head to the gulf to build their offshore rig. Meanwhile, the town in which they’re based begins to doubt their motives. Further trouble comes when Gambi falls for the daughter of a local fisherman and leaves the townspeople in a rage. Steve also finds himself in an uneasy friendship with the other daughter of the same fisherman. As they struggle to meet their deadlines Steve and Gambi are faced with a loss of funding and the increasingly dangerous town in which they live. Their wills and their friendship will be tested in this high stakes gamble. Will they strike it rich, or will they run out of time?
This is an interesting movie and a far cry from the Anthony Mann movies before this. There is a dark nature in the character of Steve Martin that creeps to the surface at times, only to be pushed back down again. Stewart expertly captures the desperation and drive of man trying to make it with his last hope. This is possibly the best performance of Dan Duryea’s career as well, the opposition and friendship between his character and Steve is powerful.
Visually, this is a great movie for the time. The filming was done largely on location. This included filming on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Although the story isn’t as strong or as interesting as some of the previous films Stewart made, this is still a good movie. Moving in to 1954 he would make Rear Window and establish a friendship with Alfred Hitchcock that would lead to several classic Hollywood gems.