The Naked Spur features an amazing cast that includes James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker and Millard Mitchell.
The Production: 5/5
Howard Kemp(James Stewart) is a bounty hunter tracking wanted killer Ben Vandergroat(Robert Ryan). Kemp meets a prospector on the trail, Jesse Tate(Millard Mitchell), and offers him $20 in 1868 dollars to lead him to where Vandergroat was last seen. Before long, they are joined by dishonorably discharged Union soldier Roy Anderson(Ralph Meeker), who follows along on a whim and ultimately helps Kemp capture the wanted killer. Along with Vandergroat is Lina Patch(Janet Leigh), the daughter of Vandergroat’s former partner in crime.
Vandergroat discloses that he has a bounty on his head after he is captured, with the result that the reward sought by Kemp becomes shared three ways with Jesse Tate and the man who helped capture the killer, the disgraced soldier Anderson. The garrulous Vandergroat knows exactly how to manipulate people, and attempts to play on the greed of his captors by pointing out that “Money splits 2 ways much better than three” in his efforts to play them against each other and make his escape.
The party’s efforts to return Vandergroat for the reward gives them each an opportunity to become better acquainted with the character of their fellow travelers, for better and worse. Tate, the prospector, has a dishonest streak, and the disgraced army soldier played by Meeker is no better. Kemp has been damaged emotionally by a woman who sold his ranch and ran off with another man while Kemp was fighting in the war between the states. James Stewart is excellent in his role of a disillusioned man who has lost his way. Janet Leigh plays her divided loyalties with flourish as she seemingly struggles between Vandergroat’s selfishness and Kemp’s decency. Ralph Meeker plays a scoundrel perfectly, and Millard Mitchell is likewise perfect as a prospector willing to cut some corners to financial success. Robert Ryan plays Vandergroat as a shameless opportunist capable of talking his way in and out of almost anything.
Anthony Mann(Raw Deal) directed The Naked Spur, one of seven films that he produced with James Stewart, and there is not a stinker in the bunch. (This is one of five westerns in which Stewart collaborated with Mann, and each one deserves to be seen at least once.) The story and screenplay by Sam Rolfe, later of Have Gun, Will Travel, and Harold Jack Bloom(The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) was nominated for the Academy Award but lost that year to Titanic. (Some things never change.) The dynamic of a charismatic prisoner trying to manipulate his escape has been done before and since, but rarely as well, and the actors’ performances and the screenplay make for an entertaining and fast moving 92 minutes of film.
Although cinematographer William C. Mellor was not nominated for his work on this film, the compositions of staging and movement on the screen are sublime in The Naked Spur. This is one of those films in which the movement proceeds so smoothly and adeptly that makes the cinematography too easy to be taken for granted. The stills featured with this review do not do justice to the visual artistry of this film, even as it is enhanced by filming on location in the San Juan Mountains and Durango, Colorado. The Naked Spur is one of a number of classic films that has been recognized for its artistic merit as being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant that was added to the United States National Film Registry in 1997. The Naked Spur stands as a seminal western and a fascinating rumination into greed and redemption.
3D Rating: NA
The Naked Spur appears on Blu-ray (at long last!) in its original 1:37.1 screen aspect ratio. This transfer is a revelation since every earlier rendition on home video has suffered from poor contrasts and color as well as registration errors baked in from the original three-strip technicolor. The clarity of the screen images is sublime, with nice fine detail perceptible as well as gradations of depth in shadows and blacks. Colors appear faithful and true to a three-strip technicolor feature produced in 1952. The visual splendor of this feature is certainly enhanced by the location filming in Durango, Colorado and the beautiful San Juan Mountains.
The default audio is English DTS-HD 2.0 mono. There is surprising dynamic range packed into this seemingly modest audio with gunfire carrying some punch to it. Dialogue is always crisp and clear over music, sound effects, and the occasional sounds of running water.
Special Features: 2/5
Special features include the following:
Things We Can Do Without(8:50)(SD): A Pete Smith novelty short from 1953 narrated by a Smith named Pete.
Little Johnny Jet(7:04)(HD): An MGM cartoon from 1953 directed by Tex Avery.
Theatrical Trailer(2:44)(SD): An original theatrical trailer for The Naked Spur from 1952.
The short films included on this disc were released later in the year than the feature film, but do represent what you might have seen if you watched this film in a movie theater in late 1953.
I always appreciate whenever Warner Brothers supplements their classic features(this one from MGM) with a “Night At The Movies” approach which includes short films that might have been seen with the feature film at the time of its release. Studios should do this with every classic film if they also have ownership of, or can license, the relevant short films. It is always a glaring error when studios fail to port these shorts over to Blu-ray when they were included originally on the DVD. (Objective, Burma! is a good example of this failing.) Note to studios: please continue to include these classic film shorts with the feature films whenever possible.
The Naked Spur is an excellent western actually filmed on location with a fine cast of actors at the top of their game. The Naked Spur has never looked better on home video than it does on this Blu-ray disc, and the film shorts from the same era which are included as special features are a nice touch. If you like this film, the other 6 collaborations between director Anthony Mann and Jimmy Stewart(4 of which are also westerns) are highly recommended as well.
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