Blu-ray Review: The Far Country | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, July 4th, 2020  

The Far Country

Studio: Arrow Academy

Nov 14, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

The fourth of five Westerns made by director Anthony Mann and actor Jimmy Stewart for Universal International between 1950 and 1955, The Far Country could be more pedantically characterized as a Northern. Shot in the national parks of Alberta, Canada and set in Alaska during the 1896 Klondike gold rush, the film is a variation on the same themes and ideas Mann and Stewart had established in their earlier collaborations, Winchester ’73, Bend of the River and The Naked Spur. Stewart plays a morally ambiguous loner who must rally to the defense of the less fortunate amid the Technicolor splendor of the American West. Or Northwest, in this case.

Although Mann and Stewart found more variation in their Western collaborations than one might expect given how quickly they made them and how oversaturated the genre was at the time, by 1954 things started feeling slightly repetitive. Despite being fleet, well-made and entertaining, The Far Country bears more than a bit of resemblance to Bend of the River from 1952. Both films feature Stewart’s protagonists attempting to lead settlers into the untamed frontier amid a gold rush, both feature set pieces on riverboats and both feature many of the same bit players and character actors. Bend of the River ultimately drills deeper into the character of Stewart’s protagonist, building itself around a rivalry with his doppelganger, an unscrupulous former soldier played by Arthur Kennedy. The Far Country is less concerned with Stewart’s character, a hard-bitten cattle driver and quasi-outlaw named Jeff Webster. Unlike the pointed guilt his character feels over his actions during the Civil War in Bend of the River, or the desire for revenge that animates him in Winchester ’73, Stewart’s character here is simplified. He’s done questionable things but doesn’t seem to regret them much. He just wants to sell his cattle, buy a ranch and retire with his ornery sidekick Ben, played by Walter Brennan, the all-time champion of ornery sidekicks. Although he’d played unsavory types in his previous collaborations with Mann, it’s still jarring to see drawling Jimmy Stewart introduced not only as a character wanted for murder, but a character who doesn’t seem to give those murders a second thought.

The slight lack of depth in Stewart’s protagonist gives screenwriter Borden Chase - who wrote two of the three previous Mann/Stewart Westerns, as well as the Howard Hawks/John Wayne classic Red River - some room to explore the large supporting cast. John McIntire is particularly fun as the black-hatted villain, a crooked judge whose over the top wardrobe is nicely offset by his easy-going antagonism. He seems to genuinely like Stewart but still can’t wait to hang him. Love interest duties are split between Ruth Roman as a sultry saloon boss caught between Stewart and McIntire and the delightfully Quebecois Corinne Calvet as the daughter of the local doctor. Decked out in blonde pigtails, a variety of knit hats and a laughably thick accent, Calvet’s character is cartoonishly Canadian, riding a weird line between love interest and plucky kid sidekick. Calvet was 29 when the film was made, but her character reads as being in her late teens, especially given Stewart’s mocking nickname of ‘freckle face’. Theirs is the more convincing relationship, although the movie leaves Webster’s intentions toward her ambiguous. They’re together at the end, but never kiss, which makes their chemistry all the more confusing.

Arrow Video has put together an great two-disc package for their new Blu-ray release, featuring two version of the film in both original aspect ratios, as well as new documentaries on Mann and the film itself. The fact that it’s among the lesser collaborations between Stewart and Mann shouldn’t deter potential viewers; their shared output was so consistent that it’s as good a place to start as any.



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