Will Lockhart (Stewart) has traveled a thousand miles to exact revenge on the man who got his brother killed. Arriving in Coronado, Lockhart is immediately faced with opposition from Dave Waggoman (Nicol) the son of the ailing cattle baron, Alec Waggoman (Crisp). As Lockhart continues to dig for the truth behind the death of his brother, he’s forced to contend with the younger Waggoman and Vic (Kennedy), one of the Waggoman cattle bosses. This soon escalates into a life and death situation as Lockhart gets closer to the answers he’s seeking.
Thomas T. Flynn first published his story, titled The Man from Laramie, in the Saturday Evening Post in 1954. Within the following year, the story was adapted for film by Philip Yordan and Frank Burt. This screenplay became the fifth and final Western that Anthony Mann and Jimmy Stewart would collaborate on. Together, the two had worked on some of the best films of Stewart’s post-war career. This list includes Winchester ’73, Bend of the River, The Naked Spur, and The Far Country. Each film featured the troubled and darker vision of Mann, built around stories of revenge and anger. This last film is no exception to that formula.
In addition to Stewart, the film features a fine cast of actors who brought the story to life nicely. The cast includes Oscar winner Donald Crisp (How Green Was My Valley), and five time Oscar nominee Arthur Kennedy (Peyton Place). The cast also includes Cathy O’Donnell (The Best Years of Our Lives) and Alex Nicol (Strategic Air Command). For Stewart, this film marked a major change in the type of character he could play. Instead of the hopeful and often optimistic characters Stewart was playing before the war, he was finding great success in troubled and angry roles. Although this wouldn’t be a total change in direction, it was a chance for audiences to see an intensity and depth that Stewart had rarely displayed before.
Some of the best moments of the film come with the tension between the characters played by Stewart and Nicol. The animosity and anger seem to boil over just enough to bring real emotion to the scenes. The writing gave these two multiple opportunities to put this to good use. In addition, the performances of Crisp and Kennedy both work nicely opposite Stewart.
This movie was one of the first Westerns filmed in Cinemascope, and was also shot in Technicolor. Considered a classic today, the film was also a moderate success upon its initial release. As with the other Mann/Stewart films, this movie seems to be ahead of the times. The emotional content of the story is played out wonderfully in front of the epic landscapes Mann chose as his backdrop. For Stewart, this is another great example of his continued ability to evolve and find new depths in his talent. This is easily the best of the five Westerns that Mann and Stewart would work on together. Interesting to note, the pair would also complete and release Strategic Air Command in 1955, making it a busy year for the two talented men.