The Tin Star (1957)

10 05 2008

I hate Hollywood, I hate Westerns, but I’ll be damned if I couldn’t help but love all of this. Sure, it pretty has all the terrible textbook narrative elements that I associate (and loathe) with Hollywood cinema from the time period, but it also feels more aesthetically in line with a film like Kon Ichikawa’s Fires on the Plain. Theatrical, silly, melodramatic, plot-heavy — so on and so forth. Anthony Mann, at least judging from this film, isn’t some wild innovator but instead, someone who is able to work within the means of the studio and still create one of the “artiest” movies I’ve ever seen.

A bounty hunter, Morg Hickman, brings a dead body into town to collect his reward. The sheriff in town, Ben Owen, is young, naive, and considered to be a temporary replacement. Waiting for his money, Hickman notices just how terrible Owen is for his job and attempts to help him out a little. Meanwhile, Hickman is also befriended by a little boy, Kip, and his single mother, Nona. As his new relationships grow, Morg finds himself caught up in the events of the town, which (obviously) leads to more than a couple gunfights.

This is very much a shallow film, both in it’s character types and cause-and-effect structure. It is conventional, in every sense of the word. However, Henry Fonda’s carefree performance lends the film a perhaps false feeling of character psychology. Much has been said about Mann’s “deeper” Westerns but I think that probably lies more within the acting than any technical choice. Here, Fonda is so cynical and deadpan that he perfectly establishes the mood for the film itself. The theatrical style perfectly complements the fairly minimalistic tone. This could all very well be accidental on Mann’s part but combining all this with the painterly landscapes that are present throughout all of the film, and you’ve got yourself something special.

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One response

10 05 2008
mrsemmapeel

I doubt it’s accidental, since it pops up in every Mann I’ve seen. He at the very least knows how to direct actors, pulling out nuance and interest from his direction. I’ve actually seen this film, but it was years ago and I barely remember it unfortunately. I do love The Naked Spurr though, and recommend it to you. I doubt you’ll like it anymore than this, but it has a similar feel from what I gather.

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