The last of a run of outstanding Westerns made by Anthony Mann, shortly to graduate to bigger (albeit perhaps less interesting) projects like El Cid! (1961), and James Stewart, whose angst-driven cowboys of the 1950s run parallel with his self-doubting Hitchcock heroes.
The plot hook is almost noirish, prefiguring 1971’s Get Carter, as Will Lockhart (Stewart) investigates his brother’s death and gets embroiled in the Lear-like family struggle of a blind cattle baron (Donald Crisp), whose beloved son (Alex Nicol) is a sadistic weakling.
Audiences in 1955 were shocked by the scene in which Nicol has his minions hold down Stewart and repays him for a wound by shooting the hero’s hand at point-blank range.
Trail-boss Vic Hansbro (Arthur Kennedy) is – as in Mann’s earlier Western Bend of the River (1952) – the hero’s near-equal in manliness, but turns out to be his demonic counterpart, driven by resentment of the family (whose ranch he runs but will never inherit) to a dirty deal involving selling guns to renegade Apaches.
The Man From Laramie is a taut, tragic tale with a memorable hit theme song (“The West will never see a man with so many notches on his gun”) and Mann’s trademark sense of the way desperate and obsessed men relate to each other and the dangerous landscape that emphasises their extreme psychological states.
John War Eagle
Frank De Kova