Plot: Link Jones don't want to be an outlaw no more. But after being abandoned in the middle of nowhere with two others by the train they were riding following a failed robbery, he finds himself face-to-face with his old boss and forced to once again join the gang. He tries to balance feigned loyalty to his posse and concern for his fellow train passengers.
What a pleasant surprise this "man"/Mann Western was! I wasn't expecting much since I had never even heard of this one, but it's solid stuff. I've liked other Anthony Mann Westerns, but in this one, he's second to no one, not even Ford, in using landscape to help tell the story. Link, played stoically by a fatigued-looking Gary Cooper, is one of those characters who is in control in a situation there's no way he can control. As things look bleaker and bleaker, the landscape reflects that, becoming harsher and harsher--from civilized town to a rickety train to a dilapidated farmhouse to a ghost town to miles and miles of brown jagged rock. It's all beautifully photographed, as are the characters. Lee J. Cobb's Dock Tolbin looks like he just rolled off the set of a movie in which he's been shot at by Clint Eastwood while Leone looks on, and there's something raw and tense about his performance. I also liked Jack Lord as another of the baddies. They're definitely not the bad guys I expected to see in a late-50s movie. I think that's what I really liked about The Man of the West actually; it's not a glossy Hollywood Western but one not afraid to get some dust on the lens. There's a great scene with the death of one character. In other Westerns, other good Westerns even, this unfortunate character (second from the bottom on the cast list) would have caught the bullet, fallen down, and died. In The Man of the West, the camera follows him as he stumbles around and moans in extreme pain and then lingers on him from a few moments after he finally, almost mercifully, expires. Harsh stuff. There's another great scene with Julie London's character, a woman thrust into a damsel-in-distress type situation, in an uncomfortably humiliating moment, and Cooper, with a knife drawing a trickle of blood from his throat, forced to watch. Another Western would keep Link 100% chivalrous. Link would grit his teeth and curse the mean guys under his breath. But here, you read something else on his face. There's conflict, a part of the old outlaw Link who really might enjoy what is going on. There's a tense and introspective flavor and an unexpected darkness to The Man of the West that anticipates future Westerns. I liked it a lot.