The Western is the near perfect genre for American filmmakers. The basic premises are pre-written, giving the filmmaker boundlessly expansive freedom. Anthony Mann took full advantage of that freedom and he did it in explorative ways John Ford never did. Mann, along with Budd Boetticher, set the model down for later filmmakers such as Monte Hellman and Sam Peckinpah. Film historians have tended to rank Mann below Ford and above Boetticher. Completely reverse that and take nothing from any of the three.

When the subject of Mann’s contribution to the western genre is explored, it is his cycle with James Stewart that is inevitable brought up. Indeed the Stewart collaboration Naked Spur (1953) remains Mann’s highest praised achievement in the great American genre. However, it is his nearly forgotten and last true western, Man of the West (1958) starring Gary Cooper that is his most strikingly modern. A telling sign of this film’s greatness lies in its still debated status.

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