The Far Country (1954)
A self-reliant loner (James Stewart) trying to drive cattle to Dawson encounters a crooked-official (John McIntire) hell-bent on extracting and stealing as much economic rent from everyone around him……..and his sights are now on the town of Dawson.
Apparently, a historically inaccurate account of life along the Canadian border around the turn of the century – but I don’t care about the historical relevance of this picture. This is a great piece of entertainment and not just interesting because of fantastic cinematography (as implied by some critics).
Stewart gives a memorable performance as one of his nastier – and deeper – characters; a bitter man without a shred of empathy for his common man.
Perhaps, the only person in the world he cares for is his constant-companion, the elderly and fatherly Ben Tatum played by an in-form Walter Brennan. Director Anthony Mann includes the regulars Harry Morgan, Chubby Johson and Jay C Flippen as the colourful inhabitants of the gold-town of Dawson. John McIntire gives a show-stealing turn as the cruel, preacher-like and all-powerful ‘lawman’ “Mr Gannon”.
Mann doesn’t make Stewart the hero of this picture – too often, Stewart’s character shies away from getting involved and stands-by whilst others are killed – and the film is so much better for it. At the end, Stewart does the right thing but is it for the right reasons?
This is a darker western than most people would think and cannot be accused of falling into that group of older-movies now dismissed as too sentimental for younger audiences.
Ruth Roman gives a subdued but elegant performance as “Miss Castle”, a woman wishing to capitalise on the economic expansion of the times but also weary of the distorted arm of the law in this part of the world……
Perhaps, I should also say that whilst the movie has a lot of things going for it, the cinematography is absolutely out of this world. Those snow-capped mountains that etch the skyline against which our protagonists ride are just mesmerizing.
To be fair, the finale lets the picture down a bit – the gunfight between McIntire and Stewart is no way near as good as their war of words in Gannon’s Kangaroo court – but this is a mere mute point given the rest of the movie.
At the end of the day, for me this is one of the better westerns made in the 50s. A must-see film.
hotdog rating: 8.5/10