Another superb Western from director Anthony Mann who, along with Budd Boetticher, created an outstanding series of engrossing, thoughtful, and challenging films that helped keep the genre fresh and vital during the 1950s.
Jimmy Stewart plays Howard Kemp, the obsessed, disillusioned Civil War veteran who returns home to find he has lost his land. To raise the money need to regain his land, Kemp decides to become a bounty hunter and enters the Colorado Territory in search of the escaped killer Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan), who has a 5,000 reward on his head. Van is accompanied by Lina Patch (Janet Leigh), a lonely woman wishing to escape to California.
While searching for Van, Kemp picks up a pair of companions: Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell), a grizzled prospector, and Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker), a dishonorably discharged Union soldier.
The two drifters believe Kemp to be a lawman and agree to help him capture Vandergroat; they corner the fugitive and Patch on a rugged hillside and take them as prisoners. However, when they learn that Kemp is just a bounty hunter, they demand an equal share of the reward. Kemp refuses and Van sees a chance to escape via a clever campaign to pit the men against each other during a seven-day trip through dangerous Indian territory back to Abilene.
This is a tightly directed Western, in which Mann’s protagonists, once again, allow the desire for vengeance to consume their sense of honor and decency. The journey becomes a process of near-religious revelation that ultimately allows one of them to achieve a state of grace. On-location shooting of Colorado’s rugged landscape greatly benefits from the masterful touch of cinematographer William Mellor.
“The Naked Spur” is one of the eight films that Jimmy Stewart made with Anthony Man in the 1950s in what’s one of the most fertile collaborations in Hollywood’s history. Mann, like Hitchcock but unlike Capra, brought out another facet of Stewart’s all-American persona, one that’s edgier and darker.
Oscar Nominations: 1
Story and Screenplay: Same Rolfe and Harold Jack Bloom
The winner in this category was “Titanic,” scripted by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, and Richard Breen.