The Naked Spur (Anthony Mann, 1953)
A bounty hunter trying to bring a murderer to justice is forced to accept the help of two less-than-trustworthy strangers.
Famously being the third movie that united star actor James Stewart to director Anthony Mann, The Naked Spur holds a sweet spot for the Western lovers. Also with Janet Leigh and Robert Ryan other A-List actors, this film is in the vein of great classic American Westerns that populated the 1950’s. While John Ford was making them one after the other, Anthony Mann was also mastering the genre with an obvious admiration for Ford’s style, themes, and actors.
The concept of community of survival à la Ford and the idea of a group of professionals taking care of a serious business is a theme that was dear to Howard Hawks and his popular Westerns like Red River. Bankable actor James Stewart with his average Joe presence is making a clear difference in this story. Much of the silences in this film bring the violent tension with the murderer as for the sexual tension with Janet Leigh. Anthony Mann captures a lot of the male psychology in this blend of male with the aging prospector (Mitchell Millard) as the father figure for the adults and their disputes. Just as kids who play cowboys and fight for the right to be with the lady.
This is a deep film that demonstrates all of Mann’s talent in storytelling and analyzing human nature. The cinematography by William C. Mellor is splendid just as in any Anthony Mann picture with lots of exteriors and action sequences that elevated the art of the time.
Now more than sixty years since its release The Naked Spur has been a classic Western that steps up for its originality, its themes in a conventional matter, and its deep cinematic language. As being in the shadow of John Ford and his plethora of great films, Anthony Mann never shined as much as the most celebrated American movie director but in made films in a way that influenced many of his followers including the long respect and tribute of Martin Scorsese towards many of his lesser known films.