Those who like their westerns raw and gritty will enjoy Man of the West (1958) Giving a nervy, twitchy performance as Link Jones, a former family gang outlaw gone straight and then forced back into his old lawless family, is a world-weary and haggard Gary Cooper, matched by Lee J Cobb (born Lee Jacob) as his sadistic and violent uncle Dock Tobin, the psychotic gang’s boss, who forces him to join them again for one last job.
An equally strong performance is turned in by actress, and jazz and pop singer Julie London (Remember “Cry me a River”?) as saloon singer Billie Ellis who fights back the tears as she is abused and humiliated by being forced to strip in front of the gang to save the life of Link, with whom she has fallen in love. Allegedly, this was followed by a violent rape scene filmed by director Anthony Mann, but this was cut, just leaving in the bruised and bleeding, but unbowed, aftermath depicted by London.
The film, Mann’s last western, was initially received badly by some critics with grumpy Leslie Halliwell harshly giving it no stars out of four in his Film Guide and judging it “routine” and “missable” Conversely the 1997 Virgin Film Guide awarded its highest accolade of five stars out of five, their “masterpiece” standard. More recently the 2013 Radio Times Film Guide gave it four stars out of five, describing it as “fine, relentlessly grim”. Halliwells publishers later reviewed Halliwell’s original review, after his death in 1989 and selected the film, after deleting the negative bits, as one of the Halliwell’s Movies That Matter of 2008, a round-up of 2,800 films of note from 24,000.. Not bad for something so “routine” and “missable” then?
Sadly all three leads have since gone up to that great studio in the sky. Cooper died in 1961, three years after the film was made, aged 60, Cobb in 1991 aged 64 and London in 2000 aged 74…
Man of the West is being released in a Blu-ray and DVD dual-format on March 23 by Eureka Entertainment as part of their The Masters of Cinema Series.