The Man From Laramie (1955) Anthony Mann

This review contains spoilers

The 1950’s is arguably the finest decade for western films with not only the work of Anthony Mann, but fine work from John Ford (The Searchers, The Horse Soldiers, Rio Grande) , Howard Hawks (Rio Bravo) , Fred  Zinnemann (High Noon)  and Delmar Daves  (3:10 to Yuma, Broken Arrow, Cowboy) among some lesser known works. “The Man from Laramie” was the final collaboration between Anthony Mann and James Stewart and the first in Cinemascope culminating a brilliant artistic partnership with one the finest westerns of all time.

James Stewart gives another mesmeric performance as Will Lockhart, one more in the line of Mann obsessed cowboys on a revenge seeking mission. Here Stewart’s character is looking for the man responsible for his brother’s death, a soldier in the Calvary whose unit was wiped out by repeating rifle toting Apaches purchased from white men. Three men become Lockhart’s prime suspects, land baron Alec Waggoman (Donald Crisp), his hot headed insecure son Dave (Alex Nicol) and the head ranch foreman Vic (Arthur Kennedy).

Like past Mann/Stewart characters Will Lockhart is not your typical machismo cowboy, he’s unsure and remains vulnerable at times, similar to lead characters in “Winchester ’73” and “The Naked Spur.” Mann’s other male characters in this film display signs of stunted masculinity. Papa Alec overly protective of his uncontrollable son Dave (who reminds me of the John Cassavetes role in the 1958 film “Saddle the Wind”) struggling to meet the stature of his father, acting more like a spoiled child who cannot get his way than an adult, and then there is Vic the foreman who has been like the son Alec never had. Vic will come to realize that no matter what Alec has promised him he will get when he dies; Dave is his blood and will get everything. A sense of tragedy hangs over Alec who was once the most ruthless and powerful man is now forced to face his own vulnerability, he is going blind and with it goes his strength.

Unlike other Mann westerns I have written about so far this film has two female characters instead of one. First there is Barbara Waggoman (Cathy O’Donnell), Alec’s niece who runs the General Store. Barbara has no love for her callous Uncle Alec as she watched him cheat his brother, and her now dead father, out of his share of land. Like other Mann heroines she is in love, at least in the beginning, with the “bad” guy in the story, in this case Vic. The other main female, and the more important role, is Kate Canady (Aline McMahon), the only rancher not afraid to stand up to the Waggoman’s greed, though she does shares a secret with Lockhart, that she has been in love with old Alec for years. With his oncoming blindness and sense of helplessness she will finally get her man.

“The Man from Laramie” struck me as one of the more sadistic westerns I have come across, two scenes in particular stand out, first during Lockhart’s first altercation with the Waggoman empire when he and his men are surrounded by Dave and some ranch hands for “stealing” salt from the Waggonman’s flats. Lockhart was told by Barbara Waggoman he could take the salt claiming nobody cared. Lockhart discovers otherwise when he quickly finds a rope around his waist and is dragged across the flats. Dave then orders Lockhart’s wagons burned and his mules shot. The second scene is even more unsettling. After being wounded with a gunshot in his hand in an earlier shootout with Lockhart, Dave gets his revenge when his boys capture Will. They hold Lockhart down and with Mann’s camera up close in Lockhart’s face Dave puts a bullet in Lockhart’s shooting hand. While you do not see the gun shot on screen, the scene is so powerful you wince more than once feeling the pain.

Another interesting aspect of this film are the dreams land Baron Alec Waggoman suffers. He wants Lockhart out of town and is even willing to pay to get him out. We find out the this is due to a fear from  a continuous dream Alec has experienced two or three times a week for a long time where a tall, lean stranger is going to come to town and kill his boy. The old man wants Lockhart out. In the end the old man’s dream is deadly to his son as anticipated but only partially correct.

The film is based on a short story by Thomas T. Flynn that originally appeared in the Saturday Evening Post with a screenplay by Philip Yordan and Frank Burt. One problem I had with the film is the lack of motive given to the son Dave for selling rifles to the Indians. It does not do him or his family any good, in fact it is probably was a dangerous move since the Apaches it is assumed would use the weapons against them. One other minor thing is that the film’s title is a misnomer. While he came from Laramie with goods that he initially was delivering in the wagons, Lockhart states later in a conversation with Barbara Waggoman that he has no home and is basically a drifter.  


12 comments on “The Man From Laramie (1955) Anthony Mann

  1. scott wannberg says:

    indeed, also one of my favorites. love jack elam as untrustworthy chris boldt, and the ever reliable james millican as the local law. enjoyed jeanne basinger’s book on anthony mann…


    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Scott,

      Glad you are a fan of the film. Jack Elam is one of my favorite character actors. For most of his career he always played a villian. Millican actually worked with Mann twice before in Winchester ’73 and Devil’s Doorway. I actually jut ordered Basinger’s book and hopefully it is in the mail.


  2. R. D. Finch says:

    John, another fine post in your series on the Mann-Stewart Westerns. This is my favorite after “The Naked Spur.” I especially like the great Technicolor CinemaScope photography by the versatile Charles Lang. The contrast between the dry, brownish town and countryside and Kate’s ranch, which with its huge pond and mature trees seems almost like an oasis, is really striking. And the supporting cast is really good–the older Donald Crisp, Wallace Ford, and the always-reliable Arthur Kennedy, very good here, conflicted in a good-bad role. And it was so good to see Aline MacMahon again, so well cast and giving such a good performance. I also had reservations about the Dave Waggoman character–he seemed a very one-note personification of evil. An interesting observation about the 50s being such a good decade for Western movies, especially considering how popular the genre was on TV at the time. Another great series of Western films from this decade I admire a lot is the Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott films. With their recurrent revenge theme, they have a lot in common with the Mann-Stewart Westerns.


    • John Greco says:


      thanks for mentioned the Boetticher films which i inadvertently skipped over. I am also an admirer of the Boetticher/Scott films. Aline MacMahon is a fine actress sho I especially liked in “Gold Diggers of 1933”, “Five Star Final” and a little film called “Heat Lighting” with Ann Dvorak. In looking a IMDB I see she was also in Mann’s “Cimarron” which I hope to look at in the near future. I have not seen that film since I was a young kid! Mann certainly did a nice job utilizing the Technicolor process, you point out to good observations. Thanks again!!!


  3. Sam Juliano says:

    “Dave is his blood and will get everything. A sense of tragedy hangs over Alec who was once the most ruthless and powerful man is now forced to face his own vulnerability, he is going blind and with it goes his strength.”

    The sense of Greek tragedy the film showcases is conveyed through the figure of the old patriarch, played by Donald Crisp. Once strong and powerful, he is now losing his eyesight and becoming helpless. “I own land,” he says pathetically, “but I can’t see it.” The theme of blindness applies also to his character. He can’t “see” what his real son is. He can’t “see” what Arthur Kennedy feels about him. His lack of vision is compensated for with dreams, in which he “sees” events that are to come. He tells Stewart of his most frequent nightmare, in which a stranger, tall and lean, comes into his home with a gun, coming “to kill my boy, my Dave.” When the son is killed, the old man believes Stewart (“tall and lean”) to have been the killer. In a scene of epic tragedy, Crisp rides alone to avenge his son’s death. Unable to see at all by then, he rides blindly toward Stewart, shooting wildly, but determined to carry out the rules of the western code by which he has lived. Finally, Stewart says simply: “I am not the man in your dream,” and the old man gives up, riding off into the landscape. It is a sense of uncommon poetry and madness, with no physical resolution in violence whatsoever. Rather, it illustrates the futility of violence and draws a fine line between insanity and the code of the western.
    Of course as you note, there is an element of sadism in the film, and Will Lockhart is of course not your typical cowboy. In any case, this is Mann’s towering masterpieces and one of the truly great westerns in the history of the cinema.

    An impassioned, fascinating review, John.


    • John Greco says:

      Sam, the passion you have for this film shines in this fantastic response. In revisiting these films that I have so far I have to say Mann’s stock has shot upward. “The Man From Laramie” is a tragic story of “blindness” and greed,certainly one of the greats!!! Thanks Sam.


  4. […] John Greco’s spectacular series on the films of Anthony Mann continues with a brilliant essay on what may be the director’s masterpiece, the Greek tragedy set in the west, The Man from Laramie.  It’s a must-read and it’s over at “Twenty Four Frames”: […]


  5. I really enjoyed this film and the others and his stock rose as a director. Thanks to Sam for the introduction.

    Enjoyed reading your review!


  6. […] -The Man From Laramie  ( Anthony Mann) – James Stewart gives another mesmeric performance as Will Lockhart, one […]


  7. […] The Man From Laramie (1955) Anthony Mann ( […]


  8. […] The Man From Laramie (1955) Anthony Mann ( […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s