The Hero’s Journey in “The Man from Laramie”

DESPITE an affected air of mystery, there is no real uncertainty about the character played by James Stewart in “The Man From Laramie.” He is an easily recognizable Western hero—the type that finds himself lonesomely aligned against the elements of tyranny and injustice in a frightened frontier town. And the incidents in which he breaks their strangle and prods the fundamental villain to his doom occur in a smoothly flowing fashion, according to familiar Western rules.

Indeed, the mysterious motivation that brings Mr. Stewart to town in this lively Columbia outdoor drama, which arrived at the Capitol yesterday, is almost forgotten in the onrush of local conflicts that swiftly evolves. And it is picked up only for a fillip of melodrama and personal triumph at the end.For what it is worth, the reason for our hero’s descent upon the town is to snoop out the varmint responsible for the death of his brother, a cavalry officer, at Apache hands. Seems that some local rascal had sold rifles to the Indians (a standard crime), and Mr. Stewart wants to know who done it. He aims to get that scoundrel—and he does.

But the main body of the picture is wholly and tempestuously filled with Mr. Stewart’s uncomfortable relations with the highly unsociable elements in town. Even while he is preparing to clear out (with his mission unaccomplished, by the way), some nasty fellows charge down upon him and almost kill him, just to show how mean they are. And from then on he’s tussling and tossing with these unwholesome characters, stubbornly resisting their compulsions as they destroy themselves, one by one.

It is in these internal combustions that the film is most interesting, for it is here that Philip Yordan and Frank Burt have done the most with a magazine story by Thomas T. Flynn. They have written considerable characters in a big ranch baron, his hysterical son and a cold, calculating foreman who has the ownership of the ranch in view. And under the fierce and steady direction of veteran Anthony Mann, they are played with authority and vividness by Donald Crisp, Alex Nichol and Arthur Kennedy, respectively.Mr. Stewart is, as usual, atmospheric and incisive in his lean, heroic role. The largely incidental feminine angles are contributed by Cathy O’Donnell and Aline MacMahon — Miss O’Donnell as a foursquare storekeeper and Miss MacMahon as the amiable owner of a rival ranch.William Goetz has produced the picture in excellent color and CinemaScope, which enlarges the Western vista. This makes up for the things that are obvious and banal, of which there are a number in this stoical Western film.