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.