The Far Country (1954) – Film Review
Director: Anthony Mann
Cast: James Stewart, Walter Brennan, Ruth Roman
by Sarah Morgan
Throughout cinema history, directors and stars have formed fruitful partnerships. Clint Eastwood had two – with Sergio Leone and Don Siegel – until he realised he’d prefer to direct his own movies, John Wayne and John Ford, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, and John Huston and Humphrey Bogart.
And then there’s James Stewart, who seems to have been a favourite of a few auteurs – Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Mann all called on him numerous times and with a great deal of success.
Mann was Stewart’s most frequent collaborator. They made six films together, starting with Winchester ’73 in 1950 and ending with The Far Country five years later; a falling out prevented them ever teaming up again.
The latter is making its debut on Blu-ray via Arrow; the release features a restored version of the film in two different aspect ratios for those who find such things important. Personally, I’m more concerned about whether the story is entertaining or not, and I’m glad to say The Far Country’s is.
Mann and Stewart are famous for their Westerns, but this could perhaps be better described as a ‘Northern’. It’s set in 1896, but rather than taking place on the wild open prairies, the action occurs in Alaska and the Yukon, taking in the Klondike gold rush along the way.
Stewart plays Jeff Webster, a hard-bitten wanderer who, along with his ageing friend Ben Tatum (Walter Brennan), is driving cattle from Wyoming to Canada. But it’s a tough journey involving a number of shady and corrupt characters who seem to have it in for the pair.
Jeff is the type who prefers to keep himself to himself, but a series of incidents persuade him to make a stand.
“Fine character actors”
Stewart’s character could easily be unlikable, but the actor’s personal charm means we’re rooting for him all the way. He’s supported by some fine character actors, including Brennan, who made a career out of playing exactly the kind of crusty sidekick he portrays here.
John McIntyre plays a corrupt judge who will punch as low as he can to get what he wants, while Ruth Roman and Corinne Calvet are the women who fall for Jeff, despite his rather gruff demeanour. Watch out too for Jay C Flippen, Harry Morgan, Royal Dano and Jack Elam in brief roles.
Special features include a documentary about Mann and an appraisal of his Westerns.
• Two presentations of The Far Country in both original aspect ratios of 1.85:1 and 2.00:1
• Brand new restoration from the original film elements by Arrow Films
• Original 1.0 mono audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Limited edition booklet with new writing on the film by Philip Kemp and original reviews
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1
• New audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin
• American Frontiers: Anthony Mann at Universal, an all-new, feature-length documentary with film historian Alan K. Rode, western author C. Courtney Joyner, script supervisor Michael Preece, and critics Michael Schlesinger and Rob Word
• Mann of the West, a newly filmed appraisal of Far Country and the westerns of Anthony Mann by the critic Kim Newman
• Image gallery
• Original trailer
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the film in the alternate original aspect ratio of 2.00:1
The Far Country is released on Blu-ray by Arrow Academy, £24.99