When director Anthony Mann cast James Stewart, star of cuddly classics It’s A Wonderful Life and Harvey, he saw a darkness underneath his lead’s fatherly screen persona, and it’s this darkness that drives Mann’s 1955 feature The Man From Laramie, a psychological western as concerned with the destructive forces of revenge, privilege and resentment as much as it is about shoot outs and sweeping vistas. Will Lockhart (Stewart) is a man out for vengeance after his brother is killed by Native American Apaches.
Vic is a far more capable and level-headed man than Alec’s son Dave (Alex Nicol), who despite his violent hotheadedness is due to inherit the ranch. Cue plenty of festering resentment in all directions, but although all three men are variously unpleasant, the only true villain here is the brattish Dave. In one of the film’s truly shocking moments, Dave shoots Will through the hand after provoking him into a shoot out, a scene that anticipates the ultra-violent Spaghetti Westerns and the era of Sam Peckinpah. All westerns are in some way about violence, but the great westerns – The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Shane – use violence to explore fundamental psychological questions. The Man From Laramie is nevertheless a complex and nuanced examination of envy, resentment and filial loyalty.