MAN OF THE WEST. United Artists, 1958. Gary Cooper, Julie London, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur O’Connell, Jack Lord, John Dehner, Royal Dano, Robert J. Wilke, Dick Elliott, Frank Ferguson, Emory Parnell, Chuck Robertson. Screenplay by Reginald Rose, based on the novel The Border Jumpers by Will C. Brown. Music by Leigh Harline. Producer: Walter Mirisch; director: Anthony Mann. Shown at Cinecon 44, Hollywood CA, Aug-Sept 2008.

   This film was chosen as an example of the films produced by Mirisch, beginning inauspiciously with the “Bomba the Jungle Boy” series, then in collaboration with his brothers in the Mirisch Production Company, advancing light years to the production of films such as Some Like It Hot, West Side Story, The Magnificent Seven, and In the Heat of the Night, garnering three Oscars for Best Picture, as well as numerous other awards.

   Mirisch had just written his autobiography, I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History, copies of which were available at a lobby signing.

   Mirisch was born in 1921, but the only concession to his age was the scheduling of his screening interview before instead of after the film. He was an engaging interviewee, with apparently total recall of his films, and the Cinephiles award was presented to him by George Chakiris, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in West Side Story.

   Man of the West was an early Mirisch film (and not a financial success), a dark Western in which Gary Cooper plays a reforned outlaw who, escaping a train holdup with two fellow passengers (Julie London and Arthur O’Connell), stumbles into the hideout of his former gang, led by his uncle (played by the decade-younger Lee J. Cobb).

   Cooper has to convince Cobb that he’s back to join the gang, which is planning a bank robbery. The climax of the film, the robbery in what turns out to be nightmarish ghost town, is an exciting and unconventionally shot shoot-out against what appear to be overwhelming odds for Cooper.

   There is something of an air of implausibility about the film (written by notable TV scriptwriter Reginald Rose) that may have contributed to the film’s failure at the box office. Nonetheless, the film has a fine cast and director, and whatever its shortcomings, it was still great fun to watch.