THE FAR COUNTRY (1954)
Starring James Stewart, Ruth Roman, Corinne Calvet, Walter Brennan, John McIntire, Jay C. Flippen, Harry Morgan, Jack Elam, Robert J. Wilke, Kathleen Freeman. Directed by Anthony Mann. (97 min)
ON BLU-RAY FROM ARROW ACADEMY
Review by Mr. Paws😸
Because of his iconic roles – aided in no small part by his real-life persona – we tend to forget James Stewart was equally adept at playing morally ambiguous characters, even anti-heroes. While Hitchcock exploited that better than anybody, director Anthony Mann was also pretty skilled at tapping into Stewart’s dark side.
Mann and Stewart collaborated on four westerns together, the best being their first, Winchester ‘73. However, Stewart’s character in The Far Country is arguably more interesting. As Jeff Webster, he’s not motivated by revenge or an inherent sense of righteousness. For much of the story, in fact, he’s merely a self-serving opportunist with a past we’re only partially privy to. In some ways, the character could be seen as one of the precursors to the Man with No Name.
In the film, Webster and partner Ben Tatum (Walter Brennan) head to Alaska with a herd of cattle, which they plan to sell in order to buy a gold claim. He runs afoul of corrupt judge Gannon (John McIntire), who runs the town of Skagway and uses his authority to take Webster’s cattle. Local saloon owner Ronda Castle (Ruth Roman) offers Webster a job leading her to Dawson, a booming-but-lawless gold town where she plans to establish another business. Webster accepts, stealing his cattle back from Gannon along the way.
|"I'm about to make it a wonderful life, mister."|
Though Webster and Ronda share a mutual attraction, not everyone in Dawson is happy at her arrival, especially when she outbids the locals for his cattle, putting their businesses in jeopardy. Things grow worse when Gannon and his men arrive to try and take over, just like he did in Skagway. Webster resists getting involved, but Gannon is practically daring him to.
Stewart is solid, as usual. While outwardly congenial, even laid-back, he also makes it clear Webster is not a man to be crossed. Viewers weened on Stewart’s Frank Capra films might even find his performance somewhat revelatory. Roman is also enjoyable as the strong-willed, fiercely independent Ruth. Her flirty, semi-antagonistic banter with Stewart is highly enjoyable. Walter Brennan is...well, Walter Brennan. But the film’s MVP might just be John McIntire, whose smug performance makes Gannon a wonderfully hateful villain.
Director Anthony Mann keeps the story simple and fast-paced while making great use of his Canadian locations (though some of the sets are obviously soundstages). The Far Country may not rank among Stewart’s greatest films, but as pure popcorn entertainment, it’s certainly one of Mann’s. New to Blu-ray, it’s been given a nice restoration by Arrow Academy, offering the film in two different aspect ratios and including a great batch of all new bonus features (outlined below). As classic westerns go, you can’t go wrong with this one.
"AMERICAN FRONTIERS: ANTHONY MANN AT UNIVERSAL” - An informative 30 minutes documentary in which various historians & writers discuss Mann & Stewart’s collaborations, including those which were not westerns.
"MANN OF THE WEST” - A frequent contributor to Arrow Academy bonus features, critic Kim Newman offers his insights on Mann’s westerns.
AUDIO COMMENTARY – By Adrian Martin.
ALTERNATE ASPECT RATIO (2.00.1) VERSION – On Disc 2
SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET – Includes cast/crew & restoration credits, contemporary reviews and an essay, “The Far Country: Western as Legend,” by Phillip Kent.
3 IMAGE GALLERIES – production stills, conceptual art and promotional material.
REVERSIBLE COVER – Featuring new and original artwork (we prefer the original).
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.