Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
As he does in all the Westerns he made with director Anthony Mann, James Stewart stalks through “The Man from Laramie” with wraith-like resoluteness. His Will Lockhart wears a brown, waist-length corduroy jacket, a battered hat, and a red neckerchief. That last accessory, like Stewart’s fragile blue eyes, suggests a courtliness that has been suppressed. As his name implies, Lockhart has removed himself from the world of normal human relations. His brother has been murdered, and he’s out for revenge.
The plot is a Wyatt Earp story laid over a noir-like lattice of interpersonal complication. Lockhart arrives in the town of Coronado, and, like Stewart’s sheriff in “Destry Rides Again” (itself a riff on the Earp legend), you know he’s there to clean things up. Yet the more involved he becomes the less human he seems. The ranchers and townsfolk have roots, stories, relationships. Lockhart, by contrast, is defined by his obsession, and that abstractness makes him seem all the lonelier.
I can’t say enough about the way in which the screenplay, adapted by Philip Yordan and Frank Burt from a story by Thomas T. Flynn, ushers the viewer through subplots, always taking care to elucidate how the various story elements overlap and link up. It’s the kind of picture that would seem a mess if it weren’t so expertly assembled, so distilled. As always, Mann maintains a fierce control over the movie’s tone. The scenes of violence are vivid yet terse, and the settings are expertly fixed to the characters’ mindsets and ordeals. A salt flat is like an anvil on which the wills of men are hammered and misshapen.
If the movie has a failing it’s in the subplot concerning Arthur Kennedy’s genial ranch hand. His third-act emergence as a villain feels perfunctory, and it disrupts the harmony of relationships the screenplay has been working towards. When Donald Crisp’s rancher patriarch is left without an heir, a sour note is struck. And when Lockhart departs the town amid hints of future romance, his vengeance having been enacted through a third party, it’s hard to buy into. It seems a fate too worldly for this dusty specter.
- Twilight Time has released a lovely Blu-ray of the movie, which is sourced from a 4k scan of the original camera negative. It’s expensive, but worth owning if you like the movie.