Grade: B+
Entire family: No
1954, 97 min., Color
Not rated (would be PG for some violence, drinking, smoking, and adult situations)
Arrow Video
Aspect ratio: 2.00:1, 1.85:1
Featured audio: LCPM Mono
Bonus features: B-
Includes: two Blu-ray discs, booklet
Amazon link

When people think of James Stewart they think of the pictures he made with Frank Capra, or, in later years, Alfred Hitchcock. But in the early 1950s Stewart teamed with director Anthony Mann on eight films that made his screen persona edgier and more ambiguous. Five of those films were Westerns—Winchester ’73 (1950), Bend of the River (1952), The Naked Spur (1953), The Far Country (1954), and The Man from Laramie (1955)—and all five were both critical and commercial successes.

Sixty years later those Westerns remain so similar in quality that it’s a matter of preference. The slight edge may go to The Naked Spur and The Man from Laramie, then Bend of the River and The Far Country—the latter an enjoyable “Northern” along the lines of John Wayne’s North to Alaska.

In The Far Country, Stewart plays a cowboy who had driven a herd of cattle from Montana to Seattle, then boards a steamship to take them to the gold fields in Skagway, where the price of beef is sky high. But as the ship is leaving, a sheriff shouts to the captain to take the cowboy into custody because he’s said to have killed two people. In short order, Jeff Webster goes from wrangler to fugitive, dodging the crew thanks to the help of a woman (Ruth Roman as Ronda Castle) who invites him to get under the covers with her as the crew unlocks and checks every stateroom. And that’s just the start of the action.

Jeff isn’t the only character straddling good and evil, either. Ronda has a saloon and may or may not be in cahoots with Skagway’s self-appointed law, Judge Gannon (John McIntire), who has a whole gang of gunslingers and thugs to help him “keep order.” His first order of business when we meet him is a public hanging that’s disrupted by Jeff driving his cattle through the center of town. And suddenly he’s the judge’s next order of business, with a ruling that the court is confiscating the whole herd for “damages.”

Set in 1896 during the Klondike gold rush, the film’s main theme is that where there’s an honest fortune to be made, close behind are dishonest people looking to take it away—whether that means cheating someone, bullying them, running them off, or eliminating them. And Jeff Webster finds himself caught in the middle—even between Ronda and a young French girl he calls “Freckle Face” (Corinne Calvet), though he doesn’t seem to have any interest in them. Like the other miners, he’s just interested in making a score.

Famed character actor Walter Brennan is in top form as Ben Tatum, Jeff’s partner, but there’s a whole parcel of familiar faces in this film, as Mann was inclined to use the same actors over and over. Harry Morgan and Jay C. Flippen are here, along with Jack Elam, Robert J. Wilke, Chubby Johnson, and Royal Dano—all instantly recognizable, even if their names are not.

But the real star, as is often the case with a Mann Western, is the wilderness. Many of the outdoor scenes were filmed in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada, with its dramatic snowy mountains, icy glaciers, and big sky, showcased to perfection by Oscar-winning cinematographer William H. Daniels. This Arrow Academy Blu-ray features two discs and two ways to view the film: with the “alternate original aspect ratio of 2.00:1 and the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 2.00:1 is the way to go, because it captures detail lost on the “original” release. There’s a decent bunch of bonus features here too, featuring a six different film scholars—though a little “scholar” goes a long way. The best of the extras is probably “American Frontiers: Anthony Mann at Universal,” which is a nice overview of the director’s Universal films, many of which he did with Stewart.

Language: Nothing to speak of

Sex: Other than seeing a woman in underclothes pretending to be in bed with a man, there’s nothing much here

Violence: It’s a Western, so there are the usual fistfights and shootings, though there are a lot more ambushes here than usual, and characters are killed 

Adult situations: There are competing saloons in Skagway and Dawson, and so there’s drinking, smoking, and gambling 

Takeaway: This is a pretty decent transfer from Arrow, and hopefully that bodes well for future releases