films like these are why i watch 523 movies a year. i bought this film having never heard a thing about it. the reason? anthony mann. henry fonda and anthony perkins were just icing on the cake. anthony mann’s 1950s westerns are consistently great and he has cracked into that select category of directors whose work i would like to explore completely. there are some directors who are mildly interesting, but there aren’t very many who inspire me to want to see every single thing they have done.
from the opening to the closing this film is fantastic. i love films that just jump right into it; mann does this in bend of the river, far country and winchester 73 as well. this one begins with fonda towing a second horse with a dead man laid out on the horse’s back. immediately we are drawn into the film. who is the dead man? who is fonda? what happened and what is going to happen? that’s how you open a film. fonda, as it turns out, is an ex-sheriff turned bounty hunter who has come to town to claim his reward from the green sheriff played by anthony perkins. it occurred to me that either one of these guys could have played the other at some point in their career. perkins can be dark (psycho) and can be the everyman (trial, tin star) and so can fonda (in my darling clementine he does both, in tin star he plays a darker character and in grapes of wrath he plays the everyman).
mann’s direction isn’t particularly striking, rather it emphasizes characterization, writing and storytelling. this isn’t a bad thing at all – some of the best directed films aren’t particularly stylized.