Saturday, April 29, 2017

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR MAY ON TCM


Perhaps you don't think you're in the mood for a western this month. Fair enough. How about a northern? How about The Far Country?



Jeff and Ben are going to be rich.
James Stewart, Walter Brennan

The premiere acting/directing team of the 1950s, James Stewart and Anthony Mann, gave us 8 films in the decade, including 5 of its finest westerns. In 1954 their output included the movie we look at today plus the musical biography The Glenn Miller Story. In his off time, Stewart made a little picture called Rear Window with Alfred Hitchcock. No actor ever had a decade like James Stewart had in the 1950s.

The story and screenplay of The Far Country is from Borden Chase, the Oscar nominated writer of Red River, and here he gives us another driven man. Actually, there are two driven men in the movie; two sides of the same coin.



Jeff and Gannon's meeting defines their relationship.
John McIntire, James Stewart

James Stewart plays Jeff Webster, a cattleman out to make big money by taking his herd to the Yukon. Jeff is confident in his abilities and his personal code. This confidence attracts friends and followers. Jeff does not seek them out.

The great John McIntire plays Gannon, an entrepreneur who both uses and skirts the law for his own purpose. He too is self-assured and independent. The difference between the two is that Jeff has trust issues that isolates him from all except his friend Ben Tatum played by Walter Brennan. On the other hand, Gannon is a user of people. They are pawns in his schemes and playthings for his amusement. These two men will clash. It is inevitable from their first meeting.



She trusted a man once. He once trusted someone.
James Stewart, Ruth Roman

The Far Country is also the story of two women, both attracted to Jeff. Ruth Roman plays Ronda Castle. She runs a saloon in Skagway and has plans for expanding into Dawson City. She plays the game well as a strong-willed woman given to unexpected spurts of generosity. However, even someone as independent as Ronda cannot call her life her own. She works with and for Gannon. She is playing a very dangerous game.



She is not a freckle-face!
Corinne Calvet, James Stewart

Corinne Calvet plays Renee Vallon, whose tomboyish appearance causes her to be treated as if she is a child by Jeff. It doesn't help that Renee has, to Jeff's way of thinking, a naive philosophy that people should help one another. Nonetheless, if Jeff would open his eyes he would see that Renee has a determination and independence of spirit that matches, if not surpasses, that of Ronda.

The journey into Canadian territory and the Yukon is filled with danger, both from nature and from man. As a miner played by Royal Dano remarks, "Where there's gold there's stealing. Where there's stealing there's killing."

The trail most travelers choose into the Yukon is in the path of spring avalanches. The one way out with your gold is prime ambush territory. The killings are swift and brutal in The Far Country. The use of legal loopholes to steal claims is the same.

Will the good people of Dawson City move Jeff to change his ways? Maybe. Maybe it will take a catastrophe to open his eyes to the goodness inherit in most people. Maybe those good people of Dawson will learn a thing or two as well about taking a stand when the odds are against you.




The Far Country was filmed on location in Jasper National Park in Alberta, a beautiful natural spot. The glorious scenery is only enhanced by the artistry of cinematographer William H. Daniels.

Fans of Stewart's many westerns will be familiar with his beloved horse, Pie. The Far Country features a lovely bit for Pie, which he carries off beautifully.

In 1952 James A. FitzPatrick filmed one of his Traveltalks in Jasper and I shouldn't be surprised if TCM airs it in conjunction with The Far Country. Look for the movie on Monday, May 8th in the prime time slot at 8 PM. The evening's entertainment is a salute to movie cattle drives.


NOTE: Character actor sightings are almost too many to mention, but here we go: Connie Gilchrist, Kathleen Freeman, Connie Van, Royal Dano, J.C. Flippen, Chubby Johnson, Robert Wilke, Steve Brodie, Jack Elam, Harry Morgan and John Doucette. Watch and let me know who I left out.










14 comments:

  1. This is probably my favorite of the Anthony Mann-James Stewart Westerns. Great performances and a terrific theme (the civilization of the Alaskan frontier). Plus, the bell...what a brilliant touch!

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    1. It doesn't seem to get the praised heaped on their other films. I don't understand that.

      Stop me if I've told you this before, but ...

      My husband does a better than average Walter Brennan, and he always (always!) uses it when "coffee" is required on the grocery list.

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    2. My brother does a Walter Brennan imitation so good you wouldn't believe it...we beg him for it all the time and frequently end up in tears of laughter. I haven't seen this one, though—in fact I haven't seen any of Jimmy Stewart's '50s Westerns, and I'm thinking I should remedy that sometime.

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    3. Stewart's 50s westerns are definite must-see pictures. Winchester '73 and Bend of the River are my top two. The Far Country has a fine story and breathtaking scenery.

      Once seen, you will want your brother to add Brennan in this movie to his repertoire. He gotta have his coffee.

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  2. I just saw this for the first time in the last couple years and loved it. Immediately bought my own copy. Great recommendation!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

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    1. I'm pleased that TCM is showing it in prime time. It should garner even more fans.

      I went back and re-read your piece on the movie. "Comfort food" is how I feel as well. This and Bend of the River fix me right up.

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    2. Yep! Those are my two favorite Stewart-Mann Westerns for sure. :) I'll be linking to your piece in my "TCM in May" roundup! :)

      Best wishes,
      Laura

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  3. Great Post. This is my favorite among the Mann-Stewart westerns. Why? The great scenery, in glorious technicolor, Walter Brennan as the lovable side-kick, and most of all, John McIntire is great as the villain. (What's funny is that based on "The Westerner", Mcintire and Brennan could have traded roles). And of course, Stewart plays probably one of his most selfish, self-centered role ever. And I love the ending, which is very clever. Its not that I don't love the other Mann Westerns, I just love this one more.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. The heart wants what the heart wants. When you love a movie, you love it. No excuses.

      I hadn't thought of it (d'oh!), but you are so spot on about McIntire and Brennan both giving us a Roy Bean. No matter how many times you watch a classic, there is always something new to discover.

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  4. I'm convinced. I'll watch it.

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    1. Ha! The fandom for this flick is relentless, isn't it? Resistance is futile.

      PS: Settle in for the night. The Cowboys follows this and it's a dandy.

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  5. I thought this was a good Western but I can't say I loved it. Stewart is strong as usual and the photography and terrain are gorgeous but to me it was nothing extraordinary.

    While her part wasn't terrible my beloved Ruth Roman is pretty much wasted yet again.

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    Replies
    1. I think they could have expanded both Ruth and Corinne's roles to the betterment of the movie. However, all those character actors make it a genuine treat for me.

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REMAKE ALLEY: From Headquarters (1933) and When Were You Born (1938)

Another amble down the twisty byways that lead to those movies you watch and say to yourself, "Haven't I seen this before?"...