Tuesday, October 13, 2020

An Appreciation for MAN OF THE WEST (1958)

Anthony Mann (1906-1967) directed some of the most respected western films of the 20th century (WINCHESTER '73, BEND OF THE RIVER) and arguably his crowning achievement was MAN OF THE WEST (1958). Somehow, this extraordinary cinematic gem starring Gary Cooper and Lee J. Cobb escaped my viewing until last month. I've now watched it three times (it's currently streaming on Amazon Prime) and plan to watch it even more. In my ever shifting top five, MAN OF THE WEST joins McCABE & MRS. MILLER, MONTE WALSH, WILL PENNY, and THE OX-BOW INCIDENT.

The demonstrative screenplay by Reginald Rose was based on THE BORDER JUMPERS (1955) by Will C. Brown. I savor so many aspects of this narrative with the King Lear hat tip, the cowboy who can't escape his past trope (but packaged fresh here), and how, once bitten, you can never quite rid yourself of the venom that flows through your psyche. No character is so minor as not to have a well developed backstory, helping to drive the overall plot.

Inspired by MAN OF THE WEST, I wrote this little free verse homage. I hope you enjoy. And I'm interested in what you think of Mann's movies.

Like a Sickness Come Back (after Man of the West)

Growing up killing, thieving,
and running, was all Link Jones
had known—his uncle Dock Tobin
saw to that, teaching him outlawing.
Uncle Dock would laugh, reminisce
of that time they stole eleven grand
and Link held on to an innocent man
as Dock took the guy's head off.

Dock's self proclaimed “right arm”
grew weary of notched guns,
fast draws, and wanted poster fame.
He had more of his late ma and pa's
grit in him—more Jones than Tobin spit.
It took time but Link came into his own
learning to not bet everything on the throw
of the dice, border jumping and the wild life.

Yes, indeed, Link escaped those blood ties
"Rot or become better," he said,
and believed what he preached, for a time.
Until, by bad luck, he saw Uncle Dock again
and the rest of his knuckle dragging kin
Link felt like killing them and that’s just
what he did saying that it was,
“Like a sickness come back.”

David Cranmer is the editor of the BEAT to a PULP webzine and whose own body of work has appeared in such diverse publications as The Five-Two: Crime Poetry Weekly, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, LitReactor, Macmillan’s Criminal Element, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Under the pen name Edward A. Grainger he created the Cash Laramie western series. He's a dedicated Whovian who enjoys jazz and backgammon. He can be found in scenic upstate New York where he lives with his wife and daughter.


  1. David, I have never seen this one, so I'm glad you posted about it--now I can look it up. It's really true how so many of the stories we love are based on the same tropes but told in such different ways as to make them seem "new" again. I remember how so many things "dawned" on me as I became more aware of these story ideas being used over and over again but with so many different twists. One that stands out is Shane. The book and the movie had very different endings. In the movie, the young boy runs after Shane calling for him to "come back"-- but in the book that doesn't happen. Why? Because Bobby, the boy, realizes that Shane can't come back. Because there is no place for Shane to dump his past and "just settle down" like everyone else can. I think Jack Schaefer found a great way of letting us see that trope from a different standpoint. I'm really anxious to see MAN OF THE WEST. Thanks for bringing it to our attention! (I've rediscovered the old Perry Mason shows and religiously record those off a couple of channels and watch those--kind of like you watching this movie several times--can't get enough of a good story!) LOL

  2. Cheryl, you touched on two items that have been on my mind lately: Jack Schaefer and Perry Mason. Beginning in March, I watched an episode a day of MASON and enjoyed the first several seasons. Inspirational storytelling and I began rooting for Hamilton Burger to win a case which he did. Silly, I know. And I'm rereading Schaefer's MONTE WALSH again. Schaefer reminds me of other writers like Hammett/Hemingway who cuts to the chase of any story. Minimalist and perfection all at once.

    1. David, I was just asking my husband yesterday "Does Hamilton Burger EVER win a case?" LOL So far, it hasn't happened. I'm glad to know he won at least ONE that we know of. Not silly at all. Since I've been watching Perry Mason, I've come up with all kinds of questions about him. It's gotten to be kind of funny. I'll say, "Will Perry ever MARRY Della?" Hubby: "No, he doesn't have time for a wife." LOL I really love Schaefer's writing. He is such a master.

  3. Well, when Burger wins that first case its almost like a loss. Lol. I won't say more and spoil it. And I just watched William Talman in the Ida Lupino directed film called The Hitch-Hiker (1953). Superb film noir.

    1. Thanks for letting me know, David. I can't recall ever seeing him in anything other than Perry Mason.

  4. I remember seeing this a couple of years ago. Cooper always delivers, and I confess seeing Julie London intially threw me. I'd always connected her with singing and being the ex-wife of Jack Webb. (Sigh). Did like the movie and also "The Westerner" with Cooper and one of my all time favorites Walter Brennan. Doris

  5. Doris, I know what you mean. I grew up with Julie London on Webb’s EMERGENCY (and I love her jazz recordings especially “Cry Me A River”) and perhaps she’s not the ideal fit. Another oddity is that Lee J. Cobb is visually much younger looking than Cooper and no amount of white hair is going to make him appear older as the uncle. Apparently, Jimmy Stewart had been the original lead choice but had a falling out with the director.

  6. AHA I can comment again -- Blogger is defeated!!

    Thanks for suggesting a Western I've not seen David -- it's no longer on Amazon, but iTunes has it for rent so I'm watching it as I type. Did you see the series on Amazon called The Forsaken Westerns? That looks like a good one and I'm going for that next -- it's a series of old, forgotten Western shows starring "big name" actors in their younger days (even has The Duke in a comedy!).

    Thanks for an entertaining post!

  7. J.E.S., I have not seen The Forsaken Westerns but sounds like I will search it out very soon. I'm always looking for lesser known movies. Thanks for the tip.