Classic Film Guide

Man from Laramie, The (1955) - full review!

The last of the (director) Anthony Mann-James Stewart collaborations features a complex screenplay which was co-written by Philip Yordan (Broken Lance (1954)) and Frank Burt, that was based on a Saturday Evening Post story by Thomas Flynn. The director's use of scenery (as an integral part of the story) helps this Western earn a slightly above average nod. It's about an ex-military officer named Will Lockhart (Stewart, in the title role) who keeps this part of his background to himself, until the very end. He's come to the small town of Coronado (in New Mexico) with three supply wagons, delivering the "paid for" goods to storekeeper Barbara Waggoman (Cathy O'Donnell). But that's not his only reason for being there, this too he keeps to himself for a while. His brother had been killed, ambushed by Apache (in lieu of the mild artisan Pueblo) Indians, as part of a U.S. Cavalry unit that was massacred some months earlier. So, against the advice of virtually everyone in town, he decides to stay to see if can find out who was responsible for selling the Apaches the repeating rifles which enabled them to wipe out his brother's unit. Being a stranger in town, and not knowing whom to trust, is the reason he keeps his motives a secret from those he encounters, at least at first.

Another reason Lockhart had decided to stay was that hot tempered Dave Waggoman, Barbara's cousin, had destroyed his 3 wagons and shot 6 of his mules in a misunderstanding over who owned some salt cargo. Lockhart later beats up Dave and then learns that the Waggoman family owns just about all of Coronado and its surrounding land for miles. The only exception is that land which is owned by Kate Canady (Aline MacMahon), who used to be engaged to Alec Waggoman (Donald Crisp), the patriarch of the Waggoman family (e.g. Dave's father). Since his son is such a hothead, Alec uses Vic Hansbro (Arthur Kennedy), whom he'd also raised and is engaged to his niece Barbara, to keep a short lease on Dave. Alec, whose eyes are failing him, had promised to leave his ranch to Vic and Dave jointly, a prospect that leaves neither of these two very happy.

Additionally, Alec has had a recurring dream that a tall stranger, like Lockhart, would come one day and kill his son. So, he's anxious to pay Lockhart for his lost wagons & mules if he'll just get out of town. The only person who wants Lockhart around is Kate, who's finally old enough herself to need a foreman for her ranch. But Lockhart is also aided by Charlie O'Leary (Wallace Ford), who'd been with the wagon train and, as loner and a good judge of character that also happens to be part Apache himself, decides to stay and help. Jack Elam plays the town drunk, a small role that seems entirely unnecessary in the film's story. However, Elam's character is used in a rather contrived way (he attacks Lockhart with a knife for no apparent reason) to get Lockhart jailed, when the drunk turns up dead; Lockhart can then be suspected of killing Dave, when that too comes to pass.

*** SPOILERS ***

Actually, it is learned that Vic and Dave were the ones who were selling the rifles to the Apaches. When Dave seeks revenge against Lockhart (for having beaten him up), he is shot in the right hand, a punishment that, with the help of his ranch hands, he then inflicts on Lockhart. The pain in his hand drives Dave a little crazy - he decides to sell all 200 rifles to the Apaches before Vic stops him, and is forced to kill him. There is a rather ridiculous confrontation between Alec & Lockhart, and another improbable subplot of a romantic nature between Barbara & Lockhart (and later Alec & Kate). Vic nearly kills Alec to keep him from learning the truth about the guns and Dave's death. After Lockhart saves Alec's life, and the old man reveals that it's Vic who's responsible for his brother's death, Lockhart finds Vic and forces him to destroy the cargo of guns. This leads to Vic's comeuppance - death at the hands of the Apaches.

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