[box cover]

The Naked Spur

The James Stewart Signature Collection

James Stewart's most prominent cinematic image is that of a lovable hayseed, a charmer who stutters his way out of trouble — and yet a stand-up guy who isn't afraid to fight for what he believes in. In films like Destry Rides Again, Harvey, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, one sees this side of Stewart's legacy, something cemented by his enlistment in the Army Air Corps prior to World War II. However, some of his most important and fascinating postwar roles worked almost transgressively against that image. In spite of its acceptance as a holiday classic, Stewart begins It's a Wonderful Life in a suicidal despair. In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, it becomes obvious that the act his character is most famous for is something he never did. And in Vertigo, Scotty Ferguson is something of a necrophiliac. The run of Anthony Mann-directed Jimmy Stewart westerns also plays into Stewart's darker side, of which the consistent theme is an unhealthy and vaguely suicidal obsession. In 1953's The Naked Spur, Stewart plays Howard Kemp, a bounty hunter after murderer Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) and a $5,000 reward. To catch Ben, he teams up with crusty old prospector Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell) and Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker), who was recently kicked out of the army for being involved with an Indian chief's daughter. They finally catch up to Ben, and he's got Lina Patch (Janet Leigh) with him, who acts more as a friend than girlfriend. But after snaring Ben they must get him back to Abilene, and Ben has no plans to go quietly. Howard's role is more desperate than the men realized — he knew Ben beforehand, and he's become a bounty hunter because a woman stole his heart and ranch. As they trek across some perilous country, the men grow wary of each other, while Ben does nothing but goad these problems. One of the great genre entries by Mann, The Naked Spur ranks with Winchester '73 and The Man From Laramie as a high-water mark in their collaborations. The film succeeds by mixing the western genre constructs with the desperation of the leads in The Treasure of Sierra Madre as the passage of time and close company grates on those willing to sell a man's life for money. The Technicolor photography at first seems to replace Mann's more noir-ish sensibilities, but as the picture goes along it gets darker and darker, while all the performers are top notch (Ryan's cackling bad guy is an amusing turn). The weight of the film rests on Stewart's shoulders, and he does a good job at being cold, but with enough warmth to show he might be salvageable. Still, there is that darkness there, that violence, which reaches a perverse peak when Stewart sticks a gun in Ryan's belt in the hopes of killing Ryan in self-defense. Warner presents The Naked Spur, part of the "James Stewart Signature Collection," in its original aspect ratio (1.33:1) with a soft transfer of the three-strip Technicolor source. The film definitely needs a restoration, but the transfer is acceptable here, while the original monaural audio is on a DD 1.0 track. Extras include the vintage short "Things We Can Do Without" (9 min.), the cartoon "Little Johnny Jet" (7 min.) by Tex Avery, and the film's theatrical trailer. Keep case.
—DSH



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