superego, id and ego battle it out in this western starring just five people and directed by anthony mann. in addition to the three freudian characters, the film includes the classic devil on one shoulder (robert ryan) and angel (janet leigh) on the other. james stewart (ego), millard mitchell (superego), and ralph meeker (id) round out the five member cast. while they play archetypes, they’re not perfect representations.
the film is essentially about three men who are loosely aligned to bring in a convict (ryan) and his female companion (leigh) for a $5,000 reward. ryan works to pit each of the three against each other so that he may escape. mitchell plays the conscience of the three men, yet he falls victim to mitchell’s plot first because of his lust for gold. as a parable the film is stimulating, though not as strong as some of the other mann/stewart collaborations.
naked spur opens with a shot reminiscent of winchester ’73, has the mitchell character who recalls walter brennan and the lust for gold that appeared in far country (one year after naked spur was released), and it has meeker who is the evil, but capable, foil to stewart like arthur kennedy was in bend of the river. there are a couple rocky chase/shoot-out scenes that are also reminiscent of winchester ’73’s finale.
not clear on the meaning of the title. i think “naked” is in the sense of “naked aggression” – as in unadulterated and raw. “spur” being a western implement for motivation, particularly for lesser beings (horses). so perhaps the title indicates the base, selfish motivations of the characters. solipsism is a theme that is repeated in mann’s westerns, so that might fit.
intellectually an interesting film, but it didn’t really entertain like other mann films have. then again, i gave bend of the river just a “b” when i saw it the first time. perhaps this one will grow on me as well. mann’s films do have a tendency to get better with repeated viewings.Watched on TV