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The Naked Spur


#140 - The Naked Spur
Anthony Mann, 1953



In the Wild West, a handful of strangers - a bounty hunter, an old prospector, an ex-soldier and a criminal's daughter - as they reluctantly join forces to transport a wanted man to the nearest town in order to collect the bounty on his head.

What if Alfred Hitchcock directed a Western? The Naked Spur seems like a direct response to that particular question - not only does it utilise two of Hitchcock's most well-known collaborators in both James Stewart and Janet Leigh, but its emphasis on the tension between its extremely small cast of characters rather than external developments certainly sounds like the kind of film that the master of suspense would have made. The film is lean enough so that its fairly basic premise doesn't get totally played out and the actors are good enough to give their already decent characters some depth. Stewart makes for a sufficiently ambiguous and sour-faced protagonist who doesn't seem that much better than the gleefully sadistic outlaw (Robert Ryan) he's escorting - he is humanised to the point where he's never quite the villain, which I'm not all that sure was the best choice but at least it's a bit better than the usual "hero is not so different from the villain" kind of story. Leigh is a bit underused as the token female character who is basically defined by her connection to both Ryan and later Stewart, but she's decent enough. Ralph Meeker and Mallard Mitchell round out the cast as the ex-soldier and prospector respectively - the former is on roughly the same moral ground as Stewart while the latter is the closest the film gets to having a truly good and just character, and they both do alright with what they've got. The fact that the film is shot on location in the Rocky Mountains makes for some fairly decent energy that's different to that of films shot on sets during the same era, which is a difference I can appreciate. It's not all that amazing but it is a rather decent little potboiler and, as I stated at the beginning, it's basically a Hitchcock film that takes place in the Wild West so if that sounds like it'd be up your alley then check it out.