THE MAN FROM LARAMIE. Columbia Pictures, 1955. James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Crisp, Cathy O’Donnell, Alex Nicol, Aline MacMahon, Wallace Ford, Jack Elam. Based on the novel by T. T. Flynn (Dell, paperback original, 1954). Director: Anthony Mann.

   The final collaboration between Anthony Mann and James Stewart, the gritty and taut Western The Man from Laramie has a lot to recommend it. Filmed on location in New Mexico in CinemaScope (one of the first Westerns to do so), the film has some absolutely beautiful Southwestern scenery.

   So much so that, despite the Shakespearean drama unfolding before your very eyes, you nevertheless are attuned to the relative insignificance of man’s petty foibles in the midst of Nature’s bountiful horizons and mountains. Be it menacing cliffs or a dusty frontier town, Mann captures the color, mood, and the very spirit of the myriad outdoor settings.

   Indeed, the crisp and memorable visual aspect of the film overshadows what is essentially a rather quotidian Western revenge story. Stewart, more than capable of playing a stoic man with torrents of rage gurgling under an outwardly jovial demeanor, is really very good. Even those who don’t particularly find Stewart to be on the same level as Wayne and Scott will find much to appreciate here.

   He portrays Will Lockhart, a former Army captain from Laramie, Wyoming, who is determined to find the man he holds indirectly responsible for his brother’s death at the hands of Apaches. This is what brings him to Coronado, a small dusty border town with a significant Pueblo Indian presence.

   It is here that he gets caught up not only in his own psychological desire for revenge, but also enmeshed in a range feud between the local power broker and cattle baron, Alec Waggoner (Donald Crisp) and local holdout, Kate Canady (Aline MacMahon). Complicating matters further is a menacing drunk portrayed by Jack Elam; Waggoner’s spoiled and violent son, Dave (Alex Nicol); and Waggoner’s devious foreman, Vic (Arthur Kennedy) who is set to be married to Waggoner’s niece, Barbara (Cathy O’Donnell). The plot veers from Greek tragedy to soap opera, never exactly finding a comfortable middle ground.

   But it’s not really the plot that matters in The Man from Laramie as much as the visual means by which Mann tells a story of a lone man set out for revenge in the midst of an expansive Western landscape. There are some extremely effective moments of violent retribution and menace. One gets the sense that Mann was trying very hard to say something about what happens when one gets the chance to peek behind the façade of self-made men.

   It’s also as if all that the frenetic activity that transpires in the movie has happened before and will happen again, all petty squabbles taking place in the shadows of mountains that will outlast the different human civilizations that will come and go in their majestic presence.