Starring: James Stewart, Donald Crisp, Arthur Kennedy, Cathy O’Donnell
Director: Anthony Mann
A stranger comes to Coronado, a small isolated town in Apache country. Will Lockhart (Stewart) brings a wagon of supplies to the Waggoman ranch, where he catches the eye and the heart of Barbara (O’Donell), but falls foul of the ranchers crazy son Dave who kills his horses and burns his wagons. But what Dave doesn’t know is that Lockhart is really on the trail of the man who sold guns to the Apache braves that shot and killed his brother.
With it’s famous theme song, this is one of director Mann’s great Westerns, and also one of his last ventures into the genre. Stewart is also a seasoned actor in Westerns by this point, and the stage is set for a great story of the Old West.
But there’s something different here. This is not exactly an ode to the olden days when men were men and all that. This is a story about psychology and juxtaposed mental attitudes. Where Dave is a very bad and sadistic man, his cousin is a beautiful and kind hearted woman. Where Dave will in herit the ranch but doesn’t deserve to, Vic does deserve to but is only the foreman and not the son. While his response to the unfairness is bitter revenge, Lockharts response is investigation and justice. Where the young lovers may or may not find themselves together in the end, two older lovers are reunited at last. It’s a play of contrasts, but one that is all in the minds and the attitudes of the players.
It also has a scene that famously shocked audiences at the time, in which a man is held down and has his hand shot at close range. Pretty heavy stuff. Personally, I find a scene where a whole wagon train of horses are shot out of spite pretty upsetting too.
While there is the typical open, dry landscape and men on horses, this is a film that explores the minds of men when they’re outside civilisation. Here in the West, men like Dave can get away with murder and torture and shooting innocent animals too, and revenge seems like a more reliable answer than justice. Into this lawless mix comes a mysterious man on a mission. Watching this I felt like the good guy might win against the bad, but at what cost?
See It If: a Western that searches the minds of the characters and heads into a dark heart, it shows that the real danger may not be the wild landscape or the dangerous natives, but an evil much closer to home.