For the generation of western filmmakers, the films made by Anthony Mann in 1950s are stepping stones for introducing the psychological tension and unseen touch of overt violence. Ford is surely the father of this purely American genre but it’s Mann who acquainted us the different taste of dark, noirish, intense and gritty western and added a wide gamut of sensibilities, contradictory characters and conflict. Mann’s films probe the human psyche’s obsessions and latent desires in startlingly adventurous and even disturbing ways. Scorsese has singled out Mann as a primary influence on his cinematic world view and stylistics. Among those brilliant five westerns he made in 50s starring James Stewart. ‘
of the River’ is the second film of that sparkling combination shot in
It was an ambitious western of Mann where a stagecoach of farmers with grub stock headed by a stranger cowboy named Glyn. Mann shot the film on real and tough locations and the whole journey part was shot so brilliantly. But what’s more arduous for the journey part of the stagecoach is not crossing the river or that hilly region but human vices. The wagons full of stock get more money than the imagination and there lurks the danger. Scarcity of food gave birth to greed for money and scheming. Vices such as envy, treachery runs in abundance. The earlier part seems more like Ford’s ideal world; it’s the later half that’s surprising one. Its here the film settles a gritty tone of Mann’s forte where human vice keeps shifting sides in dual faces of characters. Decided settlement or gold camp, greed or need, winning the sincere trust or aim for the big bounty…throughout the film the ambivalent stands keep shifting sides of men here.
The screen camaraderie between Arthur Kennedy and Stewart is a thing to watch especially their rivalry to save each others lives a number of times in entire film. Mann kept the ambivalent stand about hidden identity of both of these men. From their very first encounter we feel it. A few director managed to capture both beauty and thrill of hills like Mann in his westerns. Lovely Julie Adams is surely an added attraction in this genre of male bastion. The gripping climax at the bend of the river shows Mann’s commitment to his cinema where load full of horses and wagons crossing river and shooting rifles. Mann surely made better westerns throughout the decade but this is special since it began that spark.