Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Far Country (1954)

Director: Anthony Mann                              Writer: Borden Chase
Film Score: Hans Salter                              Cinematography: William H. Daniels
Starring: James Stewart, Ruth Roman, Walter Brennan and John McIntire

Another entry in the popular western series directed by Anthony Mann and starring Jimmy Stewart, The Far Country was the last of their association before Stewart went to work for Alfred Hitchcock. It is one of the least successful of the series, similar in tone to the lightness of Bend of the River rather than the noirish The Naked Spur. And while Borden Chase’s script attempts to wring some drama out of the third act, the humor and irreverence of the first two thirds of the film undermines the conflict. Add to that stock music from the Universal library, and the standard fifties Technicolor sets and there’s not a lot left that’s praiseworthy.

Stewart and Brennan are bringing a shipment of cattle north from Seattle to Alaska. When they arrive they are rudely introduced to frontier law when their cattle are seized by the crooked sheriff to pay for petty violations. Along the way Stewart is given assistance from Ruth Roman, who is one of the major business owners in the town, and apparently supported by the sheriff. When she heads into the Klondike to look for gold, Stewart and Brennan hire on with her. There’s something of a love triangle between Steward and Roman and the young girl, Corinne Calvet that would appear a year later in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, where the young girl gets jealous of the older woman who is obviously more to the man’s liking. Along the way there is plenty of conflict and killing but nothing that really feels menacing.

The one thing the film has going for it is Jimmy Stewart. He manages to keep the audience interested in a very uninteresting premise. Walter Brennan does his usual stalwart job of being Stewart’s conscience and Jay C. Flippen is the third wheel in their party. Ruth Roman is a little hard to figure out. In one way she prefigures Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, seemingly there to help Stewart out of trouble, but apparently on the side of the enemy. The fact that he continues to be attracted to her in spite of her associations is troubling and isn’t really addressed in a satisfactory way in the script. The picture postcard backdrops of the Universal westerns are beautiful at times but in the end it seems more artificial than breathtaking. The Far Country is definitely one of the lesser Stewart-Mann productions, with little to raise it above the standard fifties Universal oaters of the period.

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