Starring Gary Cooper, Julie London, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur O’Connell, Jack Lord, Royal Dano, Tom London

Man of the West (1958) | MUBI

(8-Exceptional Film)

Violent. Impressive. Harsh.

Link Jones: You know what I feel inside of me? I feel like killing. Like, like a sickness come back. I want to kill every last one of those Tobins. And that makes me just like they are. What I busted my back all those years trying not to be.

Like Will Munny, Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven many, many years later, Link Jones is a man with a violent past who fancies himself reformed, and like Will Munny, you’ll find yourself wanting Link to go back to being the man he swore he’d never be again; at least long enough to save the day. Played by Gary Cooper (56 at the time) in one of his best roles, Link used to run with the Tobin gang, a savage bunch led by his Uncle Doc (Cobb). Now Link is a small-town family man, riding a train west to Fort Worth to find and hire a school teacher for his community. Along the way, he meets Sam Beasley (O’Connell), an amiable gambler, and Billie Ellis (London), a beautiful saloon singer who catches his attention despite his already being married, but he also runs into the new Tobin gang with Uncle Doc still pulling the strings. Man of the West was made during the 1950s classic era of westerns and apparently wasn’t all that successful. Still, famed French filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard, gave it a glowing review and perhaps he saw clearly that it’s ahead of its time. Man of the West is an early revisionist western with a compelling brutal streak. It’s hero has a checkered past, to say the least. It’s villains are unspeakably ugly and evil. The innocent get caught in the middle and the film is clearly not beholden to your cursory Hollywood, happy ending.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


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