Plot: Jeff Webster (James Stewart) is making the most of the recent gold boom, but he isn’t a prospector, instead he cashes in on the increased need for cattle, to feed all those in search of glittering riches. As with most men in his line of work, Jeff often has to fend off cattle rustlers and that can mean violent confrontations, sometimes even fighting for his life. He and his partner Ben (Walter Brennan) are wanted for killing some men in one such attempted cattle heist, but Webster has no intention of being punished, as he knows he was protecting himself and his cattle. But when Sheriff Gannon (John McIntire) holds trial, Webster finds himself scammed out of his own beef, as the murder charges are dropped, but a flimsy disturbing the peace claim sticks. He takes a new assignment to transport some equipment, but he also has other plans, as he knows his stolen cattle are being moved close to the route he is on. But if Webster reclaims his rightful herd, how will Gannon and his cronies respond?
Entertainment Value: I liked this one, a western that hits the usual genre conventions, but has a fresh, darker approach that makes it stand out. I don’t know if I’d call it a western film noir, but elements from that genre are evident here and the movie benefits from those influences. Of course, with Anthony Mann in the director’s chair, that should come as no surprise. The narrative has a traditional feel at its core, but takes some nice twists and turns, while also taking some time to invest in character development to make sure we connect with the material. This isn’t “white hat, black hat” stuff at all, but a more open take on the western themes, even letting James Stewart loose to show some edge in his performance. I think one cool aspect of The Far Country is that you can just sit back and enjoy the western tropes and beautiful visuals, or you can look deeper, at the skilled character depth and social/ethical elements dealt with. That is a strong compliment, as it shows this is a movie that can be appreciated on multiple levels, so you get out of it what you put in. And the visuals are indeed beautiful, with gorgeous landscapes and locations, while movie’s action scenes also deliver, with several shootouts and showdowns, as you might expect. I hold The Far Country as a rock solid western that has a lot going on, so fans of the genre or cast & crew should find a lot to like here.
As I mentioned above, this movie puts a more nuanced spin on the tried & true hero vs. villain western narrative, which I found to be a welcome approach. The added focus on character depth and social elements not only makes for a compelling narrative, but it also allows the cast to shine in their roles. James Stewart has a career filled with excellent performances, including some memorable turns in other westerns, but this one more than holds its own. I appreciate that Stewart is more of a reluctant hero in The Far Country, as it allows for some fresh takes on the genre conventions, not to mention giving Stewart more room to work. He makes the most of the character depth, turning in a strong and memorable performance. Stewart’s natural charm comes through of course, but he also handles the material with ease, whether that means serious drama, action driven scenes, or a touch or two of melodrama. The cast also includes Walter Brennan, Ruth Roman, Harry Morgan, and Corinne Calvet.