Stewart Locks Horns in Laramie
With a wagon loaded with supplies, Will Lockhart (James Stewart) arrives in Coronado, deep in Apache country, with the stock needed for Barbara's (Cathy O'Donnell) store. But Lockhart soon finds himself under scrutiny when he ends up in a fight with Dave Waggoman (Alex Nicol), the son of rancher Alec (Donald Crisp) who basically owns the town and the surrounding land. It soon emerges that Lockhart's arrival in town was not just to deliver supplies but to track down a man he doesn't even know who has been selling rifles to the Apaches and who was involved in the ambush of the Cavalry months earlier where his younger brother was murdered.
If you think of great western stars the chances are John Wayne will spring to mind and probably Clint Eastwood, whilst James Stewart may not even register. The likeable actor best known for his roles in "Harvey", "The Glenn Miller Story" and "It's a Wonderful Life" was actually quite a major western star under the guidance of director Anthony Mann who in their eighth collaboration together gave us "The Man from Laramie".
Now it has to be said that many westerns are quite shallow when it comes to the storyline with stereotypical themes such as a stranger helping a bunch of helpless people to beat the bad guy being eternally popular. But "The Man from Laramie" is different and has layer upon layer of storyline with themes such as revenge, fatherly love, deceit and treachery all covered with equal aplomb. Many may consider it a bit Shakespearean with the storyline about treachery coming close to some of the Bards notable works and in doing so makes it far more interesting that your average cowboy movie.
But at the heart of "The Man from Laramie" it is a traditional western and as such has all those action scenes you would expect, especially gun fights. It's by no means the biggest production when it comes to the action with that on offer feeling a little minimal but in many ways it adds to the movie in telling the story rather than detracting from it. But it is actually quite impressive in being minimal with a range of fist fights which put more modern movies to shame, especially in a scene which takes place in a vusy cattle pen.
As with many westerns from the 50's the acting is in comparison to today's movies a little bit weak. This is not the case when it comes to James Stewart who makes for a brilliant cowboy delivering a mixture of the charm and politeness he is famous for but also showing a darker side, one of despair and rage as he seeks revenge. It's by no means Stewart's finest performance but with the character depth makes a pleasant change to your stereotypical shallow heroes in westerns. It's actually the rest of the cast where the performances are problematic with the likes of Cathy O'Donnell, Alex Nicol and to some extent Arthur Kennedy suffering from a case of over acting, delivering the exaggerated performances more typical of amateur dramatics. But it's actually hard to really criticize them as for the time this was made their performances were very much in tune with what was expected, where as compared to today's performances they feel inferior.
What this all boils down to is that "The Man from Laramie" is quite a good western and shows what a great actor James Stewart was, capable of turning his hand to many different characters. It's not my favourite western and it has to be said the over acting does distract but with it's multi-layered storyline it has a lot more going for it than your general western from the 1950's.