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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was to seek inspiration from a line or phrase from one of the many poetry-themed Twitter bots out there. I found mine, the first line below, from @PercyBotShelley.)

I found shelter in scorn;
I found solace in slurs.
For my drug was disdain,
Just to make the world worse.

My sidearm was spite
And my comfort contempt.
No man was above it,
No woman exempt.

My past was my pain,
Carved upon a stone heart,
It solid would stay
Till my soul would depart.

Or so I once thought.
I had no cause to doubt,
Till love chanced to rain
On a life lived in drought.

MPA rating: Passed (I’d say a PG)

With so many recent films to catch up on, it’s been too long since I reviewed an older movie. Westerns have never been my favorite genre, but I can appreciate a good one, and as a fan of Jimmy Stewart, I thought I’d check out one of his best-reviewed films. (Incidentally, he had 14 that have garnered a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and this is one of them.)

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Stewart plays a bounty hunter named Howard Kemp, who is seeking the wanted murderer Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan). Despite initial reluctance, he gains the help of a gold-crazed prospector (Millard Mitchell) and a “morally unstable” ex-soldier (Ralph Meeker), and the three are able to capture Vandergroat and his naïve accomplice Lina (Janet Leigh). Feeling they all deserve a cut of the reward money, the three impromptu lawmen begin the trek to deliver their quarry to justice in Kansas, but Vandergroat begins sowing seeds of discord in their uneasy collaboration.

More so than other westerns I’ve seen, The Naked Spur felt especially well-written, with a special focus on the psychological side of suspicion and desperation. That’s likely why it managed to snag a Best Screenplay nomination at the Oscars, a rare feat for the genre. The way the murderer manipulates his captors is well-played, and all five of the small cast give excellent performances. Stewart’s grizzled and cynical character is almost like a subversion of his past idealistic roles and proves his range as an actor.

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Unfortunately, the chemistry between Stewart and Leigh is strained by their age difference, and the ending feels too rushed. I see what the writers were trying to do, demonstrating the importance of letting go of vengeance, but in context, it felt like a dumb decision in service of some symbolism. Nevertheless, the ending aside, The Naked Spur was one of the better westerns I’ve seen and one more Jimmy Stewart movie I can check off my to-watch list.

Best line: (Ben Vandergroat) “Choosin’ a way to die – what’s the difference? Choosin’ a way to live – that’s the hard part.”


Rank: List Runner-Up


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