The Naked Spur (Mann, 1953)

Many think this is Anthony Mann’s best Western of the 1950’s. While undeniably linked with the Mann motifs of ever shifting environments and troubled and ambiguous heroes, The Naked Spur feels smaller in scope, more a strict character piece rather than a masterful deconstruction of western iconography and historiography. I prefer Man of the West and Bend of the River because of their dynamic and brutal relationship with past trauma’s. The Naked Spur feels somewhat safe while those films express a more expansive danger and brutality within environment and character.Simply a difference in opinion though. The Naked Spur, still excellent despite my gripes, follows Howard Kemp (Jimmy Stewart), a tortured, rageful bounty hunter as he tries to capture the charming and dangerous outlaw Ben Vandergroat played by Robert Ryan. Set in the high rock formations and deep river valleys of the Rockies, Kemp comes across miner Jesse and discharged cavalryman Roy who help wrangle the outlaw and his female companion Lina (Janet Leigh). Kemp’s infectuous rage and greed for a large reward slowly creep into the mental framework of both Jesse and Roy, complicating each character in terms of morality. Roy’s line about Ben says it all; “He’s not a man, he’s a sack of money.” Kemp understands this, and the real thrill of The Naked Spur turns out to be Stewart’s conflicted performance in the last third of the film. Mann often punches in on Kemp’s eyes as they dart back and forth between anger, frustration, and flat out rage. Kemp’s torment lies in his own disregard for humanity, an inability until the end, to see that he too, like Ben, has become a beast.- For some reason this post disappeared which is why I have reposted it.


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