Among the many things that distinguish Anthony Mann's collaborations with Jimmy Stewart are their thorough revisioning of the rugged individualist ideal. The Far Country suffers for being a bit transparent and moralistic in this mission, especially compared to Mann-Stewart masterpieces like The Naked Spur or Bend of the River, where the critique of Western self-reliance is done more through actions than words. The soundtrack is a thicket of toughtalk among a roughewn ensemble of pioneers negotiating civilization out of a bloodsoaked, greed-infested frontier.
Their chatter ironically surrounds Stewart's antisocial cattleherder who's looking to get as far away from people as soon as he cashes in on his cattle driving and prospecting. In Mann's Western's, Stewart discovered dark anti-hero dimensions to his aw-shucks persona, and in The Far Country he pushes deep into the realm of assholery, taking sadistic delight when others are trapped in an avalanche after disobeying his directions. Try as he may to break free from people, the expansive Alaskan wilderness proves to be a closed space that brings him to a full reckoning with his civic duty, defending a helpless town against a capitalist developer wielding thug power.
The film isn't terribly sophisticated in depicting the dynamic between exploiters and exploited, pitting Stewart as the inevitable superman who alone has the power to galvanize an uprising. Stewart finally comes around when he is assaulted not once but twice, which makes his path to moral redemption feel overextended. But for a good stretch, the film thrives in a wilderness of moral ambiguity reflected in both Stewart's callous actions and his unforgiving surroundings.
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The following citations were counted towards the placement of The Far Country among the 1000 Greatest Films according to They Shoot Pictures Dont' They?:
Chris Fujiwara, Steadycam (2007) Hans-Dieter Delkus, Steadycam (2007) Lorenzo Codelli, Positif (1991) All-Time Movie Favourites (Book), Independents and Others: Later Westerns (1975) Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic: Must-See Films (1987) John Kobal, Poll, John Kobal Presents The Top 100 Movies (1988) Jose Luis Guarner, Genre Favourites: Western (1993) They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films
COUNT on James Stewart and a passel of tough types to lend conviction to a fairly standard adventure of man against ill-natured men and raw nature. For in "The Far Country," which was unveiled at the Globe on Saturday, our hero, who has ridden the range for Universal-International before, again is tall in the saddle and quick on the draw if not as laconic as of yore. And, if the idea of our rawhide wrangler waging battle against the lawless who robbed and cowed the Yukon sourdoughs of 1896, is faintly familiar, then it must be stressed that Mr. Stewart and company gave it a rough but adult going-over not common to such muscular affairs.
As the indestructible and dedicated cowhand, James Stewart fits into the athletic-proceedings to the manner born. Astride an arch-necked, majestic stallion, which he sits and rides well, he is an impressive figure. Although he is suspicious of his fellow men, his actions, when put to the test, are logical and brave and a tribute to the sensible script turned in by Borden Chase.
Above all, however, it should be noted that this outdoor drama is unfolded in Technicolor against some truly spectacular backdrops of the Rockies, the Columbia ice fields and Jasper National Park, panchromatic and icy vistas that often make the action and talk mighty small.
- A.W., The New York Times, February 14, 1955
Not the equal of Bend of the River or The Naked Spur, but still up there with the most quirkily personal westerns ever made. Mann's psychodramas are played out against Jungian landscapes of hills and valleys; the use of the Alaskan background here is nothing less than metaphysical.
- Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader
With Stewart, Mann was able to explore a new type of psychological Western initiated with Winchester '73 and the explosive Oedipal conflict between rancher Walter Huston and rebellious daughter Barbara Stanwyck in The Furies(1950). In The Far Country, antisocial Jeff Webster (Stewart) sets his sights on getting enough money to buy a ranch, and damn anyone who gets in his way. He encounters corrupt Sheriff Gannon (John McIntire), a man so charming and easygoing it's hard to spot him as the "bad guy," especially in contrast to Stewart's sullen, cynical "hero" (a reversal of type characteristic of Mann's stories). Although all he wants to do is take the money and run, Webster is constantly forced to confront the harsh realities of every-man-for-himself lawlessness, whether it's the need to avenge the death of his only friend (perennial sidekick Walter Brennan) or to choose between a shady tough gal of the frontier (Ruth Roman) or the homespun charms of a decent French Canadian woman (Corinne Calvet).
- Rob Nixon, Turner Classic Movies
What makes The Far Country entertaining are the folksy relationships among the characters. Walter Brennan's ditzy sidekick Ben provides Webster's only source of sentimentality, lighting his pipe, etc.. But he has weaknesses that Jeff doesn't count on. The rest of the 'good' citizenry are a lumpen bunch of hicks easy to discount, and their social solidarity is a bit on the flat side. Jay C. Flippen's character, who goes on and off the bottle, is alogether too obvious and mechanical in conception. But there are other fun bits, like the New York-accented Connie Gilchrist, and the wonderful Kathleen Freeman with her broad smile.
Among the baddies is the toothily sinister Robert J. Wilke, of Night Passage. He also plays James Mason's loyal first officer in the upcoming 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Jack Elam is Gannon's number one deputy/enforcer. Stuntman turned actor Chuck Roberson wears a nasty makeup scar as Latigo. Like all the rest, he also gets shot down in feature after feature, most notably by Robert Mitchum in the superlative The Wonderful Country. This time around, John Doucette is a friendly miner, and Royal Dano is again under-utilized in a bit as a meek prospector.
- Glenn Erickson, DVD Talk
Anthony Mann's full-color Westerns with Jimmy Stewart lacked the formalistic rigor of their first collaborationWinchester '73 but drilled deeper into the psychology of action. The Far Country teams Stewart with the great Walter Brennan. They play a pair of ramblers who try their hands at cattle driving and gold mining before corrupt forces take everything away from them, raising Stewart's anger enough to take a stand. The final shootout probably inspired Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller, taking place in the dark, on the ground and crawling in the mud -- purposely clumsy and unheroic.
- Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid
The Far Country is largely shot on studio sets and pulls out familiar Western tropes not usually seen in his films, but Mann brings an edge to the drama with explosions of cold-blooded violence and a brilliant final shootout that plays out on a split-level plain.
-Sean Axmaker, Amazon.com
An odd psychological revenge Western from the story and script by Borden Chase. It's directed with all the clichés intact but freshened up with a vigorous intensity by Anthony Mann ("Winchester '73"/"Bend of the River"/"The Naked Spur"); it stars Mann's favorite Western leading man James Stewart in an anti-hero role. The misanthropic sullen loner role Stewart plays has him saying such things as "I don't need other people. I don't need help. I can take care of me." Its photography is visually spectacular, especially those stunning backdrops of the Rockies, the Columbia ice fields and the Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. Though not as powerful as the "Bend of the River," a film it's closest to in theme, it nevertheless is gripping and filled with rugged action sequences.
Mann transfers his dark sided film noir characters from such films as "Desperate," "Raw Deal" and "The Border Incident" to the Western genre, and tackles through these more shadowy visions such themes as the mythic conflict between the individual and society, between free will and anarchy, and the coming to terms of the man with a painful past with his renewed life spirit. The good versus evil theme of most Westerns at that time is thankfully given a more realistic and nuanced look. This was Mann's last collaboration with Chase, which has a reluctant Stewart be heroic at the last second to save the town from the tyrannical doings of McIntire.
I'm interested in the often uncanny ways in which one film's diegesis trespasses onto another's.
Here's an example: There's a scene early in Anthony Mann's The Far Country in which James Stewart, running from the law for having allegedly killed two men, is invited to hide in the steamboat stateroom of Ruth Roman. The crew comes in looking for him. "There's a killer on board, miss." "And you think he'd be in here?!" That sort of thing. When I watched the film with my senior seminar last term, I thought of how closely this scene resembles the one in North by Northwest in which Eva Marie Saint hides Cary Grant (another killer on the loose) in her train compartment. There, too, the authorities come in and question her and she plays dumb. In both scenes, the man hides in the woman's bed. This similarity can of course be explained by the simple fact that Hollywood routinely recycled scenes and situations, and not just in B grade features.
But watching it a second time I noticed two more similarities -- the first a coincidence, the second wildly uncanny. After the steamboat crew leaves, Ruth Roman pulls back the blanket and Stewart sits up. She remarks, "I imagine you look better with a shave." He replies, "My razor is in my saddlebag ... unless you've got one I can borrow." Of course, that's exactly what happens in N by NW -- Cary Grant borrows Eva Marie Saint's tiny razor, which leads to a comic scene in the Chicago train station men's room.
Here's the uncanny part. In The Far Country, just before the authorities begin to chase James Stewart, the steamboat captain calls out to the pilot, "Full ahead. Pull her north by northwest." Most curious here is the fact that there is no "north by northwest" on the compass: it's a cartographic impossibility (see Donald Spoto's book on Hitchcock, but others have commented on this as well).
So, are there other such moments? More importantly, what can we do with moments in which two films' diegeses suddenly and unexpectedly overlap like this?
Stewart plays the weary but buoyant sharp-shooting cowpoke Jeff Webster, who arrives in Seattle on the verge of a dream - being a rich 'free man'. He and his 'partner' of sorts Ben Tatem (Walter Brennan), plan to forge on ahead to the goldfields of the American-Canadian frontier where the lack of grazing land has made beef a scarce commodity. Upon his arrival in Skagway, the last American town before the Canadian border, he is caught up in the quagmire of frontier law. Driving his cattle through the township he unwittingly "busts up a hangin'" and finds himself at the mercy of the tyrannical sheriff Mr. Gannon (John McIntyre). Webster's spell in Skagway serves to render the amoral side of his character. Secretly longing to be free of the kind of the emotional baggage that human relationships bring, Webster catapults himself into a series of Herculean tests against which his masculinity is measured.
This is perhaps best exemplified in the playing out of the Brennan-Stewart relationship, which from its outset problematises Webster's sexuality. Despite Ben's protestations to Webster about "gettin' to be the chief cook, the biscuit baker and everything", he often publicises the 'familiar' nature of their relationship, telling the residents of Seattle, Skagway and Dawson about their plans to buy a ranch in Utah and "settle down". Webster's promise to Ben is symbolised by the silver bell on his saddle - a gift bought by Ben for the door of their future house, and whose incessant jangling constantly serves to remind Webster and others (including us) of this promise. Indeed, the bell is a constant source of irritation, inciting action from characters of both sexes throughout the film. It also comes to symbolise Webster's boldness and his aloofness. The sound of the bell acts as an aural invitation to some to capture this unattainable side, often driving Mr. Gannon and his cronies to fever pitch. As one of them mutters under his breath at Gannon, utterly frustrated, "I'm gunna get me that bell!" Even in the closing scene of the film, despite having chalked up a few macho points by avenging Ben and the townsfolk, Webster's sexual bent continues to be problematised. Injured and alone (due to the death of possible sexual partners Ben and Ronda (Ruth Roman)), Webster finds himself in an ambiguously intimate embrace with the tom-boy Renee (Corinne Clavert) while the whole township of Dawson looks on expectantly. Until this point Renee is always dismissed as merely well-meaning, but just as the film fades to black and Webster appears to be preparing for a kiss (thereby cementing their union), he reaches for Ben's bell and begins to fondle it longingly.
For a few seconds, that image allows Stewart to simultaneously collapse the divide between past, present and future. For all at once he represents a hero unmarked by history and the mind's eye. He is a "a microcosm of community, where ideals, reason and humanity are always prominent but below which lie self-interest, passion and violence."
- Karli Lukas, Senses of Cinema
PP: Manny taught The Far Country recently, with Ulzana's Raid. He kept talking about it having a richer sense of space than Ulzana's Raid. I kept seeing these odd scenes with Jimmy Stewart throwing guns to two guys, then the steamboat being right behind him, space being extremely artificial. So there's no real, natural sense of space, just odd juxtapositions.
Remarkable how often in that film Anthony Mann goes for a formal two-dimensionality, whereas in most of his films he's interested in opening the frame successively into the center of the screen. Also the way he uses so many enclosures.
PP: There's funny dialogue in The Far Country, pointed writing from which you pick outlines. Stewart is always saying, "Why should I? Why should I go back and help them?" And the little French girl will say, "If you don't know, I can't tell you." And the lines her father is always saying out of nowhere: "Did you know a cow had four stomachs?" We were trying to think of five lines from the films during the course that would be knockout lines for the final exam. The one we thought f from this films is the little French girl's: "Don't call me freckle-face, I'm a woman!" A lot of lines like that. Walter Brennan talking about getting a little house in the country and settling down with Stewart. And the "Bear Stew" sign. Gannon's lines: "I'm gonna like you. I'm gonna hang you, but I'm gonna like you."
MF: The move seems so cunning and likable; it's interesting because it looks so phony. And it reminds me of Yojimbo and One-Eyed Jacks - the destroyed hero having to hole up and regain his physical skills over the months. And the fighting underneath the floor; do you think Kurosawa got it off The Far Country?
Why did you choose to teach The Far Country?
MF: I always saw it in pieces on TV. I wanted to see it in continuum. Once I got it, it interested me how Mann was making his points or effects. I never could figure it out. There are so many matte shots and so much off-location stuff, and yet it's a very lyrical film.
He even gets poetic effects from bad back projection and bad day-for-night by darkening and thickening them.
MF: What motivated him to do it that way? It seems almost psychotic to do that. Except it also seems enchanting to do an Alaska movie inside a studio, and then to have critics write about it as if it's a masterpiece of location work.
Manny Farber and Patricia Patterson, interviewed by . Negative Space. Published by Da Capo Press, 1998.
Where Winchester '73 explored and defined the traditional western, The Far Country explores and defines the Anthony Mann western. Although it follows the pattern of the three other core films, it has s self-conscious, artificial quality. It is as if Mann, understanding his own game, decided to abstract it, treat it almost as a joke - while still preserving its broad outlines. His respect for the basic narrative makes The Far Country function at the entertainment level, yet the film has an odd quality that leaves a viewer slightly bemused. It is best understood in relations to the other Mann westerns.
It is in the use of space that The Far Country differs from Bend in the River, The Naked Spur, and The Man from Laramie. The frame is treated as a two-dimensional area, whereas Mann's tendency in his other westerns (and in most of his other films) was to provide an enormous depth of field, so much so that the frame seemed to be opening and receding in the center of the screen. There is no such sense of space in The Far Country.
Instead of natural settings, The Far Country presents a viewer with a great deal of artificial space mixed with outdoor locations. In its elimination of some of the location work associated with westerns, The Far Country ranks with Lang's Rancho Notorious and Ray's Johnny Guitar as a directorial exercise in abstraction of his own familiar territory. Just as Hitchcock elected to use painted backdrops and rear projection in Marnie, Mann elected to use similar devices here. The mining town of Skagway looks like a representational "western town" set. The shack in which Stewart and Brennan live, the porch of Ruth Roman's saloon (which seems too big for the rest of the building), the bar which is turned into a courtroom, are all designed with a look that says, "I am a western set - do you know which one I am?" The interior spaces of these settings are false and often not matched to their exteriors. A steamboat tied up to a dock presents such an alienating sense of space and dimension that it would be laughable were it not so skillfully, deliberately used by Mann. As the steamboat pulls away from the dock, Stewart is seen to be escaping. The area that is supposed to be the boat deck is arbitrarily shortened and narrowed to accommodate the narrative needs as Stewart flees in the restricted space from the steamboat officers. The deliberate use of a falsified reality in films that present themselves s real is a justifiable artistic decision, but one that Mann seldom opted for in westerns. In The Far Country, he not only proves that he could do it, but by doing it, offers proof that he thoroughly understood his own work, that it was not intuitive.
Seen alone without an understanding of the rest of Mann's work, The Far Country functions well as a piece of western entertainment. However, viewers often remark on how odd it is, pointing out its backdrops and weird dialogue. Although it tells a clear story, its meaning is best understood by thinking of it as an abstraction of the basic Mann pattern. The audience is never given the whole story, just pieces of it. Similarly, they are never given the entire realistic picture of the settings, just strangely shaped, artificial pieces of them. The film refers. Its sets refer directly to other western film sets and thus indirectly to reality. Its characters and their dilemmas refer to other western characters (particularly other Mann western characters). Walter Brennan plays Walter Brennan, and James Stewart plays James Stewart in the iconographic sense, and Stewart's secret remains his secret. The Far Country appears to be a step forward for Mann in which, having established once and for all his themes and methods, he experimented with them. If his hero must be allied with the landscape, could the film still work if he presented only part of the total landscape - or a false, two-dimensional landscape?
- Jeanine Basinger. Anthony Mann. Wesleyan University Press, 2007. Pages 95-97, 100-101
ABOUT THE UNIVERSAL DVD
I don't like to think of myself as a widescreen fetishist. Meaning that many 'open matte' films for me are not totally discounted especially when they contain significantly more information, as this NTSC issue does here. This is dissimilar to bastardization through 'pan and scan'. Now my optimum choice would be the widescreen version that was shown in the theater - every time. The composition is lost in the vast open spaces on the top of the frame. Anthony Mann would not compose this way. There is a small amount of information also lost on the sides of the NTSC in comparison to the widescreen. The trouble with the PAL edition is it is very hazy and slightly inferior to the Region 1 in image sharpness. I'd love to see this marvelous film widescreen, but I would also like to as sharp (or sharper) than the current unremarkable Region 1 DVD. Universal NTSC also did this with another Stewart/Mann western (name eludes me - was it 'Bend of the River'?- no the box claims it was cropped - but was shot in 1.33) and it is very discouraging. Regardless, I enjoyed my Region 1 viewing being oblivious at the time there was a widescreen edition floating around. I wouldn't buy the PAL edition though. I would sooner put tape on top and bottom of my TV screen - but that is just me. The beauty of the comparison gives you your own choice. I enjoyed my Region 1 viewing immensely. Colors are good on both and as an extra they both include the theatrical trailer (4:3 - by the way).
- Gary Tooze, DVD Beaver
Universal's DVD of The Far Country looks all right, but unexceptional. The nice color is supported by an adequate bit rate most of the time. The clear sound does justice to the Universal music department's patchwork job of cues (see the list of composers whose work was sampled, above).
Oddly, the 1952 Bend of the River, a flat academy film, carries a disclaimer saying it is altered from its original version to fit our televisions. It isn't, butThe Far Country is, and it doesn't have a disclaimer. By 1955, practically all Hollywood features were formatted to be cropped to a wider screen of 1:85, and were projected anywhere between 1:66 and 2:1, depending on the theater. I always look at the blocks of text in the titles and credits to see if a film is meant to be cropped; The Far Country has a narrow, wide rectangle of credits that matte perfectly on a 16:9 television. Crop off the earlier Westerns, and the titles get chopped off too. The Far Country looks fine shown full frame at 1:37, although it's compositionally more focused at 1:78, and would have looked better with 16:9 enhancement.
ABOUT ANTHONY MANN
Anthony Mann (not to be confused with dreary Daniel and Delbert) directed action movies with a kind of tough-guy authority that never found favor among the more cultivated critics of the medium...His Westerns are distinguished by some of the most brilliant photography of exteriors in the history of the American cinema, and yet it is impossible to detect a consistent thematic pattern in his work... Curiously, Mann's visual style is the American style which most closely resembles that of Antonioni in th eliteral progression through landscapes from the vegetable to the mineral world as in Man of the West and Il Grido down to the ultimate decadence of El Cid and L'Eclisse.
The eight films Mann made with James Stewart are especially interesting today for their insights into the uneasy relationships between men and women in a world of violence and action. Stewart, the most complete actor-personality in the American cinema, is particularly gifted in expressing the emotional ambivalence of the action hero. Unfortunately, Universal pictures were seldom taken seriously during this period by anyone except Manny Farber and the French critics, and Mann, like Sirk, was overlooked by the American critical establishment until it was too late for his career to find a firmer footing than obscure cult interest.
- Andrew Sarris (The American Cinema, 1968)
In Mann, the function of landscape is primarily dramatic, and nature is felt as inhospitable, indifferent, or hostile. If there is a mountain, it will have to be climbed, arduously and painfully; barren rocks provide a favourite location for a shoot-out, offering partial cover but also the continued danger of the ricochet. The preferred narrative structure of the films is the journey, and its stages are often marked by a symbolic progression in landscape, from fertile valley to bare rock or snow-covered peak, corresponding to a stripping-away of the trappings of civilization and civilized behavior.
—Robin Wood, Film Reference.com
"After making a number of tense, claustrophobic noir thrillers in the 40s, Mann embarked on a series of Westerns notable for their symbolic, expressive use of the rugged American landscape and their psychological complexity...Built around honour, betrayal and vengeance, Mann's films (notably The Man from Laramie and Man of the West) often featured oppressive father-figures; scenes of violence might resonate with Freudian overtones of patricide, castration and humiliation. " - Geoff Andrew (The Director's Vision, 1999)
"Primarily known for his Westerns, Mann portrayed a world of violence against some of the most striking natural vistas in cinema history. His crime films are gritty and real, and all his work reflects an exploration of the complex psychology of the human soul." - William R. Meyer (The Film Buff's Catalog, 1978)
In essence, Mann personified Hollywood's own history from the 1940s to the 1970s, as it uneasily transitioned from the steady supply of product, before 1948 and the end of monopoly control over distribution, made on studio soundstages, to bigger-budget location shoots, to grandiose post-studio multinational epics that frequently got mired in their own excess. But Mann's critical reputation since his death has blossomed with the rediscovery (or “invention”) of film noir and its ripple effects on other genres in the 1940s and '50s, most significantly, the Western. The French New Wave critics, especially Jean-Luc Godard, greeted Mann's work rapturously at a time when Mann had little critical reputation beyond one as a routine “tough guy” director. Mann's consistently dark vision has only grown in stature as his most characteristic works strike a chord in an era when optimism seems less sustainable than pessimism. Mann's camera eye conjured some of the most astonishingly original imagery in American film. And the best Mann films contain an abundance of thematic material appealing to critics interested in race, class, and gender politics. Moreover, Mann's films probe the human psyche's obsessions and latent desires in startlingly adventurous, and even disturbing, ways. It is not for nothing that Martin Scorsese has singled out Mann as a primary influence on his own cinematic worldview and stylistics.
- David Boxwell, Senses of Cinema
Mann is, in fact, one of those Hollywood directors who, when he's really humming, is so good that he tempts critics and scholars to endow him with more thematic consistency than his movies can bear. You look at one of the terrific westerns he made with James Stewart -- ''Bend of the River'' (1952), say, or ''The Naked Spur'' (1953) -- or the blistering noirs ''T-Men'' (1947) and ''Raw Deal'' (1948), or the tense, sweaty ''Men in War'' (1957), or the haunted, near-Gothic Gary Cooper vehicle ''Man of the West'' (1958), and you think, who is this guy? And if you're inclined (as critics and film buffs manifestly are) to ennoble your enthusiasms with sweeping assertions of the artist's profundity, you take your guns to town to try to bring in that Big Idea, dead or alive.
That's not so easy with Anthony Mann, who, because he was not a brand-name director like Ford or Hitchcock, didn't have the luxury of staying in one place for too long, of putting down roots in a genre or a style (much less a theme). He'd work a piece of land until it was used up, then move on -- from noir to western, from western to epic, with side trips in between. He died in the saddle, in yet another unfamiliar landscape; at the time of his sudden death in 1967 at the age of 60, he was trying his hand at a cold war spy thriller, which was, like the film noir, the western and the epic before it, the boomtown genre of its moment.
The rolling-stone quality of Mann's temperament was a very useful thing for a studio filmmaker to have in the late 40's, the 50's and the 60's, when Hollywood, facing the challenge of television, was more than a little uncertain about the kinds of pictures audiences wanted to see. Noir, the great style of the late 40's, was already starting to fade by the beginning of the next decade, and dark-streets specialists like Mann had to find new territory for themselves, quickly. Mann was smarter, or luckier, than most. He turned to the western -- a genre ideally suited to his restless nature -- right away, and he didn't make the mistake of trying to follow John Ford into the high country of western myth; he stuck to the low road, where ordinary human beings scratched and clawed to survive, and often acted in ways they would come to regret.
You could say that Mann extended the film noir sensibility into the western, as if the mean streets had led directly into those wide-open spaces. The westerners played by Stewart in ''Winchester '73'' (1950), ''Bend of the River,'' ''The Naked Spur,'' ''The Far Country'' (1955) and ''The Man From Laramie'' (1955), and by Cooper in ''Man of the West,'' are, like noir heroes, mighty ambiguous characters, motivated either by ignoble emotions like the desire for revenge or by the urge to distance themselves from an unsavory, violent past. And like the protagonists of ''T-Men'' and ''Raw Deal,'' the men of Mann's West always have to endure longish stretches of pure powerlessness, periods in which fate seems to be toying with them just because it can.
- Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times
His background is sketchy but he is believed to have been born in San Diego on June 30, 1906 to Emil and Bertha Bundsmann. He developed a love of theater after the family moved to New York City when he was ten, so his decision to drop out of high school to earn a living in the theater when his father died should not come as a surprise. After trying every possible position, including stage manager, production designer and production manager, he quickly realized that he preferred directing. A number of successful productions during the early thirties won Mann a job as a talent scout with David O. Selznick, a leading Hollywood producer, in 1938. Apparently tiring of the position, he joined Paramount as an assistant director in 1939, and he directed his first film in 1942.
It seems likely that he was given the opportunity to direct because so many established directors had enlisted after Pearl Harbor. In fact, almost all able-bodied males under fifty disappeared within a few months. Even those who were too old to fight, like William Wyler and John Ford, served by producing propaganda films. Since Hollywood needed to continue churning out films to keep people on the home front entertained, many people were given opportunities they might not have had otherwise. Those with talent were able to keep working after the war ended, while the rest ended up in B movies if they were lucky. Mann was obviously one of the talented ones.
Little is known about his private life. His first marriage produced two children but ended in divorce in 1956 after twenty-five years and a second marriage to a Mexican actress lasted from 1957 to 1963. He was married to a former ballerina when he died in 1967.
- Andrew Allen, History on Film
ABOUT JAMES STEWART
Centennial Tribute to Jimmy Stewart at Classic Movies
Jimmy Stewart page at Reel Classics
James Stewart has come a long way since his boyhood days in Pennsylvania. Starting out as an amateur magician and accordionist, he made his acting debut in a Boy Scout play and later performed in shows for the Princeton Triangle Club. He was graduated from Princeton in 1932 with a degree in architecture, but eventually joined the University Players at Falmouth, Massachusetts. It was here he befriended future stars Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan. Years later Sullavan would prove to be instrumental to Stewart's career by insisting that he be given parts in her films. In the years since his motion picture debut, James Stewart has earned a place in the hearts of moviegoing audiences as one of Hollywood's best-loved actors. His laconic style and boyish manner seem the embodiment of an uncomplicated honesty that also marked the career of his longtime friend, Henry Fonda (Stewart and Fonda were roommates in New York while working in the theater and also when they first arrived in Hollywood in 1935). Both men came to exemplify a uniquely American style of acting that takes simplicity and directness as its foundation.
Stewart's work in a number of Westerns, including several with director Anthony Mann, drew on his image as a man of honor and with an unswerving sense of duty. Again, Stewart's deliberate manner and tall, lean form made him an effective presence in this uniquely American film genre. John Ford used Stewart's image to examine the truth behind the Western myth in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, in which Stewart's character wins fame for an act that his friend, John Wayne, has performed.
Stewart's long career was certainly one of Hollywood's most rewarding, and the actor's occasional interviews and television appearances only strengthed the warm regard in which he was held. With the continuing popularity of many of his best films, he remains a much-loved and much-admired figure in American cinema.