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The Man from Laramie, a 1955 western that has received a new Blu-Ray restoration as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema series, is about as reliably old-school as you can get from one of the most stable genres of Classic Hollywood – whether or not you’ll like it depends on how much you’re into that sort of thing.
Directed by Anthony Mann and starring James Stewart (this marked their fifth and final collaboration), The Man from Lamarie starts off as a lot of westerns do – a man out of town (three guesses where he’s from) strolls in and stirs up all kinds of trouble. He picks a fight with Dave Waggoman (Alex Nicol), the spoiled son of an influential ranch owner Alec Waggoman (Donald Crisp), all while the Waggoman’s trusted foreman, Vic Hansbro (Arthur Kennedy) tries to toe the line between following orders and doing what’s right. On top of everything, someone in town is selling rifles to the Apaches, and that underhanded dealing led to the death of the brother of the titular Man from Laramie, Will Lockhart, prompting him to stick around.
It’s a story that aims to make up for its lack of surprises with strong characterization and for the most part, it works. Stewart carries himself with ease as the lead, capturing the restrained rage at the heart of his character well. From the rest of the cast, Kennedy’s performance as Vic stands out the most, perhaps because his character is the one that undergoes significant changes – his allegiances are constantly tested and desperation pushes him to some dark choices. The rest of the performances in the cast hold up as well.
The central conflicts, while well defined, aren’t exactly gripping. Let me put like it this – while you may find yourself invested in what’s going on and the resolution is clear and satisfying, it’s hardly ever anything that will keep you at the edge of your seat. The writing is good for the most part, but it does have its clunky moments. There’s some awkward exposition at times and there are also far too many mentions of Lockhart’s ties to the army. It amounts to repeating the same exchange over and over again, under various circumstances: “Hey, Lockhart, were you in the army?” “Maybe”. Once or twice is fine, and it helps maintain the mystery of the character – after a while though, it gets pretty grating.
As Wikipedia helpfully informs me, The Man from Laramie was one of the very first westerns to be filmed in CinemaScope, allowing for the vastness of the scenery to be captured in full – and it sure does make the most of it. Wide, sweeping shots of the frontier are the bread and butter of westerns, and The Man of Laramie delivers in spades. The Blu-Ray restoration gives the beautiful cinematography the crisp quality it deserves – although there are a few inconsistencies, as some shots that are noticeably grainy and not up to par with the overall quality of the restoration.
Overall, this is a solid, dependable, straightforward western. If that’s what you’re looking for, that’s exactly what you’ll get. The Man from Laramie restoration comes out in Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) on 5 December 2016.
As is customary for The Masters of Cinema series, The Man from Laramie also comes with a few additional special features, listed below:
– Restored 2.0 and 5.1 soundtracks, presented in uncompressed PCM and DTS-HD MA respectively on the Blu-ray
– New Audio Commentary by film critic Adrian Martin
– New Video Interview with critic and novelist Kim Newman
– Original Theatrical Trailer
– A New Booklet featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp, an interview with Anthony Mann, and rare archival imagery