Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews as I go through the process of finishing post and releasing my 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.
Week 131: Stranger on Horseback
As I’ve stated before, it’s films like this, not the Ford and Hawks masterpieces, that are the backbone of the Western genre. As scholars and critics may recognize the worth of Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher more and more, they still neglect the craftsman filmmakers like Delmer Daves, Joseph H. Lewis, Phil Karlson, and this director Jacques Tourneur.
I always enjoy a Joel McCrea western but it doesn’t take long into this one to realize you’re watching something special. Tourneur, channeling the injustice and paranoia of his era, creates another great Western that explores the complexity in the justice system. He also delves into some of the same debate between High Noon and the later Rio Bravo regarding whether a real man asks for help. Howard Hawks hated Cooper’s plea for aid and therefore created the staunch Wayne character in Bravo who rejects assistance. McCrea’s judge here might strike the balance between the two, opening himself to partners but not dissuaded or the least bit discouraged from his crusade when they turn him down.
The film is full of other great roles from some of my favorite Western actors like John McIntire. Kevin McCarthy is fantastic as the troublemaker. Miroslava brings a femme fatale feel to her half-bad, half-good love interest and it’s no surprise that Tourneur, one of the masters of Film Noir, leaves touches of that dark genre throughout.
Overall, this is about as solid a Western as you can get. Perhaps not great, but part of the foundation of the genre.
Watched on Tubi.