Not rated, but there's some content in here. This is one of the movies that would be R-rated if you read into all of the subtext. But it was 1958. They couldn't formally say that stuff was going on and get approved. But it is there. The stuff that is there is the abundance of violence and death going on throughout the movie. But the female lead is forced to strip. You don't see anything, but it is pretty degrading. There's also the implication that she may have been raped at one point. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Anthony Mann
I'm always a little wishy-washy on Westerns. I don't want to be completely dismissive about an entire genre (with the exception of rom-coms), but it takes a lot to warm me up to a lot of Westerns. I don't know if it is the tendency to reuse sets and costumes. I don't know if it is the fact that many of the scores of classic Westerns tend to use the same sweeping horns or just the fact that they kind of blend together. Like, I adore Unforgiven. I even like some of the more out there Westerns, like The Outlaw Josey Wales or The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. But it just takes a lot of warm up to really appreciate a good Western. Do you know what really helped? PLAYING WAY TOO MUCH RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2! Oh, man. That really helps.
Anthony Mann makes a pretty good Western. It's not a perfect film. It has one of the traits of being one of those movies that I, unfortunately, will forget important details of in a few years because it has one of those super generic titles that gives me no information about the film whatsoever. The thing is, it has a pretty tight script. I mean, I have some really weird questions about the film. That's something that probably needs looking into. But the film in general overall works. I think the biggest problem that the film has is Gary Cooper as the handsome male lead of inappropriate age. I'm not saying that we need to hire young and younger, but a major point in the plot is that Gary Cooper is supposed to be significantly younger than Lee Cobb. Lee Cobb is only ten years older than Gary Cooper. Are we supposed to believe that Dock raised Link as a ten year old? It's not one of those situations where you really can't tell based on age. I mean, Gary Cooper's old ragged face is just staring you down, begging you to shut your brain off from the practicality of the whole situation. Gary Cooper is also supposed to be the father of an eight and a ten year old. Nope. Nopedy Nope. Also, there's the way that he's super attractive to Julie London, who plays Billie. I mean, one of these things could be ignored. It's just that Gary Cooper looks old in this. It seems like I'm nitpicking. It's there for the entire film and I can't really get over it. I'm a spiteful jerk. I mean, we're looking at Gary Cooper selling the movie on star power. I'm thinking of the studio system at the time and it totally makes sense to have Gary Cooper play rugged. But some of those fight scenes seem to be moving pretty darned slow. There's a lot of moments where the movie is playing it safe with the action on screen. I'm thinking of how commonplace this was too. I keep flashing back to Funny Face and just the fact that we're lying to ourselves about how much older our male leads are. Look at the decades on both sides of this film. Jimmy Stewart was considered a handsome male lead for long long stretches of time. In Vertigo with Kim Novak, it just gets outright creepy. I suppose I like Gary Cooper well enough, but I don't exactly have a devotion to him. So when I watch something like this, I can't shut my brain off. Yeah, it makes me a bad person in one sense, but it also helps remind me of the double standard of men and women in Hollywood.
Do old timey Westerns need a romantic love interest? Billie is a confusing character to me. She really makes sense to advance some of the protagonists choices and to be a little bit exploitative. But from a perspective of character growth, she's really very confusing. Billie is constantly intersecting Link's path before the inciting incident. She is leaving her job as Link goes to get some food. She is introduced, which is a little bit of a coincidence, but nothing new in Hollywood. She is buying tickets right in front of Link. She knows Sam Beasley, despite being put off by him. She was a schoolteacher, which is the exact story that Link tells Sam on the train. (I don't really understand the delivery when it comes to Link and Sam about the schoolteacher. It seems like Link is lying, but it doesn't really makes sense for him to lie. What is he doing with all of the money from Good Hope?) All of these moments may be thrown into the movie to make her fall in love with Link, but that seems like a bit of a stretch. The love interest is built around the fact that Link protects her from his family throughout the film. That makes sense, to a certain extent. But Link is married. He has kids. It's an internal conflict that both characters go through. But it isn't ever really resolved. Billie leaves the film saying that she's never known love before Link. Okay, I get that. Then she reminds both Link and the audience that the love she has will always be private and she would never act on it. That's very mature of her, but it is also completely an unresolved storyline. We never meet Link or his family. That's fine, I suppose. But why introduce this internal conflict if it is never really going to come to a head. There is never really temptation, so it just kind of makes Billie seem weak throughout the film. Man of the West does something that probably would scan today in terms of character development. Billie is introduced as a strong character. She is objectified in the bar. She comments on the fact that everyone has sexually harassed her, with a little smirk to it, which is really uncomfortable. She is going off and going to grab the world by the horns. She also handles the train robbery with grace. She is aware that she's 100 miles from civilization, but it is Sam who breaks down. We've established that she's the strong character in the movie. But then she's forced to strip. She does so with a steely reserve. She hasn't been broken, but this is one of those exploitation things that tries to have its cake and eat it too. "Look how bad those criminals are. Welp, guess I better watch her humiliated." From that point on, she becomes this different character. She is completely reliant on Link to take care of her. She goes along with the facade that Link and she are in a relationship. But she really does nothing to save herself. The story is driven by Link completely from that point. She ends the film weaker than what she started. She didn't need anyone, but she ends the film in love and not being able to do anything about it.
Man of the West really rocks because of its core concept. It isn't anything that new. But the way that the film approaches its central theme is pretty engaging. Link is a character desperate to get away from his past. He has made a new life for himself. He's Baby from Baby Driver. He's Vito from The Godfather. But through wild coincidence, he's brought back into the world of Dock and his criminals. Dock, having raised him and used him for his talents, isn't the same man that he was however long ago that Link left. Again, because of the age of Gary Cooper, I don't know how long he's been gone. It's been at least eleven years because he has a ten-year-old son. But Dock is almost the posterchild for dementia. Yeah, he doesn't have dementia. But he's this guy who's personality seems to be a shade from what he used to be. He clings to a bygone era and acts in outlandish ways. The gang oscillates between respect and disappointment as they watch the Dock they know slipping away. It's a pretty deep story that is kind of left in the realm of the cartoonish, knowing that everyone who loves Dock is a henchman / nephew. The individual cousins don't really get a lot of attention, even as one is stripped by the main character before he's shot to death. But looking at Dock as the focal point in the story, it's odd that Link's internal conflict is not whether or not there's some love for this man, but how much he wants to kill him. Link is afraid of becoming a violent man again. This is pretty standard Western / samurai stuff. But Dock is there and he sucks. He's this pathetic guy who wants Link alive because he wants to relive the glory days. But behind all of that love for days gone by, he has to love his nephew. He's mean to him, sure. But that end. Link doesn't want to kill him and I wish it was because he loved his uncle. But part of that is that he doesn't want to see his soul gone. I would like to point out that Dock's death is just too much. The continual flips is pretty silly. It reminded me of Black Sheep or Barry with the flips down the hill. But the movie decided to go one way when it could have been multilayered. There's never that moment of forgiveness that Link has to go through. He's the righteous hero who needs to be able to kill the bad guy without reserve. We couldn't have had a tear? We couldn't have had an "I'm sorry!" in there? It such an opportunity and it never really gets there. I mean, the rest of the movie is pretty heavy, but I think I just needed one more think to put it over the final line.
Man of the West was probably in one of my list books. I'll have to go through my books and see if it is in there so I can knock it off the pile. But it is a very effective Western that just needs one more thing to really put it over the line. Yeah, Gary Cooper as a handsome male lead probably doesn't help, but he's fine I suppose.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.