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723 - The Naked Spur 
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Post 723 - The Naked Spur
Two weeks ago I saw Winchester ’73 and was really impressed with James Stewart and director Anthony Mann. Now they team up again for an even better movie and throw in Janet Leigh and Robert Ryan into the mix.

The story has similarities to Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Stewart is hunting murderer Ryan and comes across an old codger and a discharged soldier. They help him catch Ryan and his girlfriend. All this is in the first 15 minutes!

Image

Tonally the film is a surprise, being remarkably dark with Stewart having aspects to his character that we don’t expect. This adds a dimension to the film that is rare within this period. Most characters were pretty one dimensional and that’s part of my problem with the genre. Not so with Howard Kemp, Bounty Hunter.

The plot is also multi layered with character motivations shifting and allegiances changing at regular intervals. Of course, Hollywood demanded that there are Indians who always get shot and heroes who never die. But for the period, this is a complex and often surprising film.

On all my travels the director who most disappoints is John Ford. I’m not saying he’s a bad director, but his reputation would lead you to believe that he’s a master. He has seventeen films in the top one thousand. Stagecoach, the Searchers, Grapes of Wrath, yup all excellent films. But there are also many sappy affairs and John Wayne did not help him. My point of this ramble is that I increasingly think that Anthony Mann is more interesting.

i do wonder if this plot would not make a superb modern day thriller, transposed into the mid west with bad guys, bounty hunters, cops and beautiful women.

Anyways, Naked Spur is now one of of my favorite westerns and is a great movie irrespective of its background.

8/10


Wed May 18, 2011 9:55 am
Post Re: 723 - The Naked Spur
I saw this very recently and also noted the similarities with Treasure of the Sierra Madre. You rating is a little higher than mine but I still agree with all that you've said. I do prefer Winchester '73 to this though so there's that.


Wed May 18, 2011 5:21 pm
Post Re: 723 - The Naked Spur
ed_metal_head wrote:
I saw this very recently and also noted the similarities with Treasure of the Sierra Madre. You rating is a little higher than mine but I still agree with all that you've said. I do prefer Winchester '73 to this though so there's that.



Hi Ed

I prefer Naked Spur because the characters are more interesting. Winchester '73 is very good but is basically a gun changing hands for 90 minutes. I know that's being unkind, but this has changing motivations, people playing each other off against others and a hero who may not be quite as good as he seems.

Overall, i thought it was a more interesting script. That said I gave them both 8 out of 10!

But both very good.
Rob


Wed May 18, 2011 8:39 pm
Post Re: 723 - The Naked Spur
Robert Holloway wrote:
ed_metal_head wrote:
I saw this very recently and also noted the similarities with Treasure of the Sierra Madre. You rating is a little higher than mine but I still agree with all that you've said. I do prefer Winchester '73 to this though so there's that.



Hi Ed

I prefer Naked Spur because the characters are more interesting. Winchester '73 is very good but is basically a gun changing hands for 90 minutes. I know that's being unkind, but this has changing motivations, people playing each other off against others and a hero who may not be quite as good as he seems.

Overall, i thought it was a more interesting script. That said I gave them both 8 out of 10!

But both very good.
Rob


I've only seen 2 of the Stewart/Mann Westerns (this and Winchester '73), but I've really enjoyed both. Like Ed, I prefer Winchester '73.

I actually though Winchester's script was more interesting than this one, and one of the reasons I liked it more. The Naked Spur felt like a different take on a typical Western, while Winchester felt like something wholly original. I'd actually go so far as to say Winchester '73 is one of the 5-10 best westerns I've seen.


Fri May 20, 2011 9:38 am
Post Re: 723 - The Naked Spur
PeachyPete wrote:
Robert Holloway wrote:
ed_metal_head wrote:
I saw this very recently and also noted the similarities with Treasure of the Sierra Madre. You rating is a little higher than mine but I still agree with all that you've said. I do prefer Winchester '73 to this though so there's that.



Hi Ed

I prefer Naked Spur because the characters are more interesting. Winchester '73 is very good but is basically a gun changing hands for 90 minutes. I know that's being unkind, but this has changing motivations, people playing each other off against others and a hero who may not be quite as good as he seems.

Overall, i thought it was a more interesting script. That said I gave them both 8 out of 10!

But both very good.
Rob


I've only seen 2 of the Stewart/Mann Westerns (this and Winchester '73), but I've really enjoyed both. Like Ed, I prefer Winchester '73.

I actually though Winchester's script was more interesting than this one, and one of the reasons I liked it more. The Naked Spur felt like a different take on a typical Western, while Winchester felt like something wholly original. I'd actually go so far as to say Winchester '73 is one of the 5-10 best westerns I've seen.


So Peachy,

When you make a claim that a film is one of your top 5 westerns you're always going to get.... :)

What are the other 4. Very curious!

Rob


Fri May 20, 2011 10:53 am
Post Re: 723 - The Naked Spur
Really thrilling to see a discussion for my favorite director of all time. Rob, I agree that he is more interesting than John Ford. Here's an interesting thing Mann said about his peer in an interview:

"John Ford adores Monument Valley. But Monument Valley is not the whole West!"

This is typical, I think, of the fact that Mann was more consistently ambitious than Ford. He always wanted to try new things, while Ford was comfortable with the same thing over and over again. There are very few things I can think of that Ford does that Mann didn't do better. Anyway, I also prefer Winchester to Naked Spur. Spur is more visible than a lot of his films because of Janet Leigh, but I do not think it is one of his best. It feels like a B-grade flick, with only 5 characters, and Meeker and Ryan are not the best actors to carry this kind of formula. Still a great example of Mann's flair for action and troubled heroes. I think Winchester is a better candidate for one of the best westerns ever; Mann does a great job of providing the ultimate overview on the genre. The gun goes everywhere: Indians, the cavalry, a bandit, a poker game, a shooting contest, a bar with a piano, etc. He uses this structure to convey a hierarchy of survival in the West: rock/paper/scissors. Stewart cannot kill his brother until he has conquered all the others who have possessed the gun. A lot of interesting things to think about.

I hope you'll start a thread for Bend of the River, my favorite of the Mann/Stewart films. Pretty much everything he made after Winchester is golden in my book, excepting the obligatory projects for Stewart (Strategic Air Command and Glenn Miller Story).


Mon May 23, 2011 8:44 pm
Post Re: 723 - The Naked Spur
MGamesCook wrote:
Really thrilling to see a discussion for my favorite director of all time. Rob, I agree that he is more interesting than John Ford. Here's an interesting thing Mann said about his peer in an interview:

"John Ford adores Monument Valley. But Monument Valley is not the whole West!"

This is typical, I think, of the fact that Mann was more consistently ambitious than Ford. He always wanted to try new things, while Ford was comfortable with the same thing over and over again. There are very few things I can think of that Ford does that Mann didn't do better. Anyway, I also prefer Winchester to Naked Spur. Spur is more visible than a lot of his films because of Janet Leigh, but I do not think it is one of his best. It feels like a B-grade flick, with only 5 characters, and Meeker and Ryan are not the best actors to carry this kind of formula. Still a great example of Mann's flair for action and troubled heroes. I think Winchester is a better candidate for one of the best westerns ever; Mann does a great job of providing the ultimate overview on the genre. The gun goes everywhere: Indians, the cavalry, a bandit, a poker game, a shooting contest, a bar with a piano, etc. He uses this structure to convey a hierarchy of survival in the West: rock/paper/scissors. Stewart cannot kill his brother until he has conquered all the others who have possessed the gun. A lot of interesting things to think about.

I hope you'll start a thread for Bend of the River, my favorite of the Mann/Stewart films. Pretty much everything he made after Winchester is golden in my book, excepting the obligatory projects for Stewart (Strategic Air Command and Glenn Miller Story).



Hi M Games

Mann wins on two counts for me. First off, his films so far have richer and more interesting stories and characterizations than John Ford's westerns. Secondly, he worked with James Stewart who was a more interesting actor.

Not saying that Ford is poor or anything, just a preference.

And I certainly will be starting a thread on Bend of the River. It may be a long time though. I have completed the top 100, am 9 adrift on the next 100 and committed to mainly working down the list. BOTR sits in the high 800's!

I do make exceptions though - and the rules of the game were made to be broken :-)

Rob


Tue May 24, 2011 12:16 am
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Post Re: 723 - The Naked Spur
Quote:
Secondly, he worked with James Stewart who was a more interesting actor.


Ford made 4 movies with Stewart.


Tue May 24, 2011 2:13 pm
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Post Re: 723 - The Naked Spur
MGamesCook wrote:
"John Ford adores Monument Valley. But Monument Valley is not the whole West!"

This is typical, I think, of the fact that Mann was more consistently ambitious than Ford. He always wanted to try new things, while Ford was comfortable with the same thing over and over again.


I'm not entirely sure what that is supposed to mean. Both men worked outside of the genre. Ford, especially, has made some of the greatest movies of all time outside of the western genre. He's also worked with some pretty interesting actors too, most notably Henry Fonda.


Tue May 24, 2011 2:39 pm
Post Re: 723 - The Naked Spur
Robert Holloway wrote:
So Peachy,

When you make a claim that a film is one of your top 5 westerns you're always going to get.... :)

What are the other 4. Very curious!

Rob


To be fair, I did say it was in my top 5-10. I don't think Winchester '73 cracks my top 5 of the genre. Here's a completely random, made up list that will have to serve as my top 10 for now:

1. The Wild Bunch
2. Unforgiven
3. Once Upon A Time in the West
4. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
5. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
6. High Noon
7. The Searchers
8. Winchester '73
9. The Ox-Bow Incident
10. My Darling Clementine

calvero wrote:
Quote:
Secondly, he worked with James Stewart who was a more interesting actor.


Ford made 4 movies with Stewart.


This is true, but I think Rob's point is still a valid one. Ford and Wayne were practically linked at the hip. You can't really talk about one without the other. Ford worked with Stewart almost as much as Mann, but Mann is remembered more for working with him. I think it's fair to say what Rob's said here.

ed_metal_head wrote:
MGamesCook wrote:
"John Ford adores Monument Valley. But Monument Valley is not the whole West!"

This is typical, I think, of the fact that Mann was more consistently ambitious than Ford. He always wanted to try new things, while Ford was comfortable with the same thing over and over again.


I'm not entirely sure what that is supposed to mean. Both men worked outside of the genre. Ford, especially, has made some of the greatest movies of all time outside of the western genre. He's also worked with some pretty interesting actors too, most notably Henry Fonda.


I was also confused by this. I think there's a lot of undue backlash towards Ford on this forum. People seem to think that because his films aren't brooding and dark that there isn't much to analyze. I don't think that could be further from the truth. The man made quite a few very complex films that dealt with some really hefty themes. I think to cite Ford choosing Monument Valley as a favorite shooting location as evidence of his lack of ambition is downright absurd.


Tue May 24, 2011 3:08 pm
Post Re: 723 - The Naked Spur
I guess I'm really coming down to a personal preference for Anthony Mann over John Ford Westerns and trying to rationalize this preference in an unscientific manner.

Rob


Tue May 24, 2011 3:18 pm
Post Re: 723 - The Naked Spur
It's not absurd, because the western is a visual genre, and Ford's films are all visually alike. Yes, The Searchers is uniquely masterful, and better than anything Mann made. But as far as ambition goes, Ford does not compare to Mann; at least not in the same way. Mann's budgetary and production ambitions increase almost every time he makes a new film, until he finally made one of the most expensive Hollywood movies ever up to that time (Roman Empire). He strikes me as a director who was never content to stay in one place, always wanting to push the limitations of whatever genre he was working in. Ford, on the other hand, seems like he was satisfied with one kind of film, and more importantly, one kind of style. Mann is better known for varying his style according to the material, which to me makes him more interesting. I am referring, with regards to Ford, to his westerns. Some of his more complex films, other Searchers, are the non-westerns: Young Mr. Lincoln, They Were Expendable etc.


Tue May 24, 2011 7:33 pm
Post Re: 723 - The Naked Spur
MGamesCook wrote:
It's not absurd, because the western is a visual genre, and Ford's films are all visually alike.


I don't know that I'd agree with this. Sure, the Western can be a visual genre, and oftentimes is, but I don't think its accurate to lay that down as a blanket statement. Look at something like Unforgiven. I'd say, far and away, the strength of that movie is its writing. Coming in a distant second would be the performances, particularly Gene Hackman. But it's the revisionist script and how it brings issues common to the Western out in an uncommon way that makes it a great film. A similar thing can be said of High Noon. While it isn't necessarily revisionist, the premise is one that isn't common to Westerns and is explored to its end. Both of these films are character studies (and 2 of the most respected the genre has to offer), and I don't know that I think of either as a "visual" film.

MGamesCook wrote:
Yes, The Searchers is uniquely masterful, and better than anything Mann made. But as far as ambition goes, Ford does not compare to Mann; at least not in the same way. Mann's budgetary and production ambitions increase almost every time he makes a new film, until he finally made one of the most expensive Hollywood movies ever up to that time (Roman Empire). He strikes me as a director who was never content to stay in one place, always wanting to push the limitations of whatever genre he was working in. Ford, on the other hand, seems like he was satisfied with one kind of film, and more importantly, one kind of style. Mann is better known for varying his style according to the material, which to me makes him more interesting. I am referring, with regards to Ford, to his westerns. Some of his more complex films, other Searchers, are the non-westerns: Young Mr. Lincoln, They Were Expendable etc.


Again, I'll disagree here. I've only seen 2 of Mann's Westerns so I'm not going to take issue with what you've said in regards to him. However, Ford's Westerns are hardly the same kind of film. I think if you watch The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and My Darling Clementine back to back to back, you'd find three completely different films that all fall into the Western genre. Hell, you could throw Stagecoach and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon in there as well. Those are his 5 tentpole films in the genre, and I don't really think any of them are all that similar aside from 4 of them starring John Wayne. Each one has vastly different thematic aims. If you're trying to say Ford doesn't push the envelope technically, I think that's fair to say. His technical style is similar throughout most of his Westerns, but the same can be said about just about any of the "great" directors. Personally, I don't see that as a point of weakness, but rather a strength. Ford, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, pretty much any of the well regarded directors all have technical trademarks they fall back on time and time again. If it works in the context of the film, why change it? I prefer quality films over technical achievement.


Last edited by PeachyPete on Wed May 25, 2011 2:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Wed May 25, 2011 2:13 pm
Post Re: 723 - The Naked Spur
I have no problems with your conclusion, M, but I can't quite comprehend the logic you're using to come to them. I see no reason why shooting in one location is a sign of a lack of ambition. I've seen several of Ford's Westerns and don't think they really look the same. Similarly I don't see a big budget as a sign of having ambition.

That's a pretty great list Pete. I've seen 8 of those (minus Liberty Valance and Once Upon a Time) and would agree that they are among the best Westerns I've ever seen. Have you seen Hawks' Red River? That's one of my favourite Westerns and is probably in my imaginary top 5.


Wed May 25, 2011 2:14 pm
Post Re: 723 - The Naked Spur
ed_metal_head wrote:
That's a pretty great list Pete. I've seen 8 of those (minus Liberty Valance and Once Upon a Time) and would agree that they are among the best Westerns I've ever seen. Have you seen Hawks' Red River? That's one of my favourite Westerns and is probably in my imaginary top 5.


You know what would make me really, really happy? If one day you sat down and watched both of those movies back to back. They both, in their own way, attempt to sum up the West. I think it would make for a great double feature because while the theme is the same, the 2 movies couldn't really be more different from one another.

As for Red River, the only thing I know about that movie is that it's the last movie shown at the theater in The Last Picture Show. If it's good enough for that movie, it's good enough for me. I've been meaning to watch it for a while, but haven't gotten around to it. If it's in your imaginary top 5, which clearly it is, I'll make sure I check it out soon.


Wed May 25, 2011 2:34 pm
Post Re: 723 - The Naked Spur
I'm not a huge fan of Liberty Valance. Its theme of printing what the people want, or need, to hear rather than the facts is just an expansion of something Ford had already explored in Fort Apache. The whole setup stretches believability too. Wayne shot from a distance, where anyone could have seen him, and Stewart gets the credit. If Salieri had claimed to have written Mozart's work, that would have been called into serious question. Seems like the same should be true here for a man who'd never shot a gun before.

True, Unforgiven is a great, non-visual western, and a superb character study. As for High Noon...that's no character study. It's a political allegory and a gimmick. All a person has to do is watch the first 10 minutes of that film, and they'll be able to tell you exactly how the rest of it will play out; no surprises, no fun, and the direction is mediocre (action not very good).

As for Once Upon a Time in the West...in my opinion, the worst film ever to be called great. I'd sooner undergo Clooney's fingernail torture than sit through that garbage again. A 2.5 hour film without sufficient plot for a 2.5 minute film, lame tribute to other westerns with stuff like monument valley, dubbing so bad I'd rather watch Godzilla, and just...terrible. Moricone's score is tragically wasted on trash. I don't expect to persuade those who like the film, but this is my honest opinion.

Red River is good, but the ending sucks. For a better, tighter version of the same kind of story, watch Mann's Bend of the River.

I still like Ford a lot, and I think The Searchers is a good candidate for greatest American film ever made.


Wed May 25, 2011 6:19 pm
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Post Re: 723 - The Naked Spur
MGamesCook wrote:
I'm not a huge fan of Liberty Valance. Its theme of printing what the people want, or need, to hear rather than the facts is just an expansion of something Ford had already explored in Fort Apache. The whole setup stretches believability too. Wayne shot from a distance, where anyone could have seen him, and Stewart gets the credit. If Salieri had claimed to have written Mozart's work, that would have been called into serious question. Seems like the same should be true here for a man who'd never shot a gun before.

True, Unforgiven is a great, non-visual western, and a superb character study. As for High Noon...that's no character study. It's a political allegory and a gimmick. All a person has to do is watch the first 10 minutes of that film, and they'll be able to tell you exactly how the rest of it will play out; no surprises, no fun, and the direction is mediocre (action not very good).

As for Once Upon a Time in the West...in my opinion, the worst film ever to be called great. I'd sooner undergo Clooney's fingernail torture than sit through that garbage again. A 2.5 hour film without sufficient plot for a 2.5 minute film, lame tribute to other westerns with stuff like monument valley, dubbing so bad I'd rather watch Godzilla, and just...terrible. Moricone's score is tragically wasted on trash. I don't expect to persuade those who like the film, but this is my honest opinion.

Red River is good, but the ending sucks. For a better, tighter version of the same kind of story, watch Mann's Bend of the River.

I still like Ford a lot, and I think The Searchers is a good candidate for greatest American film ever made.


I'm a bigger fan of Liberty Valance than you are, hough I do agree about Red River.

I felt that The Naked Spur was somewhat similar to Red River in that it has a weak ending.

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