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Still An Exciting Western.
jpdoherty6 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
MGM's THE NAKED SPUR (1953) is another much treasured classic western from the fifties. It was one of six collaborations between director Anthony Mann and James Stewart set in the great American west that began in 1950 with the brilliant "Winchester 73" and ended with the disappointing "Night Passage" in 1957. Although he was in a western before in 1939 with "Destry Rides Again" "Winchester 73" would change the screen image of James Stewart forever. Now he would become a formidable western icon joining the ranks occupied by John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea and perhaps to a lesser degree Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford. James Stewart became a great screen presence in westerns and his characterizations in them suited him to perfection and arguably never more so than in THE NAKED SPUR. Produced by William H.Wright for the studio the Acadamy Award nominated script was by Sam Rolfe and Harold Jack Bloom. With an atmospheric score by Polish composer Bronislau Kaper (one of his few scores for a western) and stunningly photographed in colour by William Mellor on locations in the Colorado Rockies it was all stylishly directed by Mann.

Stewart plays Howie Kemp a bounty hunter on the trail of wanted killer Ben Vandergroft (Robert Ryan) in the rough terrain of the Rockies. He crosses trails with an old prospector Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell) who joins up with him as a sort of pathfinder and later by a disgraced decommissioned ex-cavalry officer Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker) who enlists himself as a helper in catching the killer. On hearing there's a reward of $5000 for the capture both Jesse and Roy now want their share. Howie needs help to bring the killer in so he agrees to splitting the money. They eventually take Ben prisoner and start the journey back. But the return trip is long and fraught with danger from inside and outside of the group. First they are attacked by a hostile band of Indians (an excellent action sequence) and later Ben starts to slyly play each member of the group against each other creating jealousy and suspicion among them. This results in Roy wanting to cut Howie out of the reward money entirely while Ben bribes Jesse to help him escape. It all comes to a tragic and watery end in an action filled finale at a rapid flowing river.

There is a cast of only five players in the picture and the performances of all concerned are quite brilliant. Stewart is superb as the main protagonist. His temperamental angst filled and Ah! Shucks demeanour is as appealing as ever. Good too is Millard Mitchell (reunited with Mann and Stewart after "Winchester 73") in a Walter Brennan type role as the likable but ultimately ill-fated Jesse and Ralph Meeker plays a great part as the sly and dishonourable ex cavalry officer. But it is Robert Ryan who steals the show as the wanted killer. His viciousness and devious nature well concealed behind a sniggering and playful false persona. Curiously there is the presence of a female in the shape of Janet Leigh as a feisty tomboy girl who accompanies Ben on the run. But her being with him is somewhat implausible and isn't really convincing. However she was probably cast to provide the movie with a little romance and be someone our hero could ride off into the sunset with in the final frame. Nothing wrong with that I suppose!

THE NAKED SPUR is an outstanding western and has lost none of its glow over the years and like all classic westerns it just gets better and better with the passing of time.
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A must-see for the fans of Westerns movies...
Nazi_Fighter_David6 February 2001
Warning: Spoilers
While "Bend of the River" rhymes the tale of pioneers seeking home in a mountain wilderness with ex-outlaw Stewart's desperate efforts to escape his past, "The Naked Spur" (with two Academy Award Nominations for Best Story and Screenplay) deals with all characters motivated by greed with Stewart's bounty hunter portrayed as no less violent and neurotic than his murderous victim... Stewart gives a performance so intense and taut as to border, in the words of one critic, on the hysterical...

Geographical odyssey reflects the hero's spiritual struggles with panoramic and outstanding views of the Rockies at their best... Beautifully photographed in Technicolor, the film tells the story of a forceful and aggressive Stewart, once a landowner cheated out of his property, who has taken the bounty hunting as the quickest way to regain a measure of respectability...

Stewart is hot on the trail of a wild killer (Robert Ryan) who has a $5000 reward on his head, dead or alive... Once captured, the obscure wily outlaw turns the bounty hunters against each other, and almost escapes...

Janet Leigh is cast as "a fancy-talking" jealous type, and apparently, Stewart finds his renewed decency thanks to our heroine... In a widely admired scene, Stewart breaks down and weeps, finally understanding the inhumanity of his bounty-hunting obsession, and is set free for his preoccupation with the fastened body as a merely rewarded property...

Meeker challenges Stewart in his tense, hostile projections, and Ryan is in his element as the crooked hunted killer...

With a short hair and hardly a make-up, Janet Leigh plays the tough, spirited, uneducated pretty companion of a murderer... She does her best to control the energies of four men, who include a discharged cavalryman with dishonor and a selfishly greedy guide (Millard Mitchell).

Mann-Stewart third movie is a visually an absorbing celebration of violent deeds, a big Western regarded as one of the best ever made, a must-see for the fans of Westerns movies...
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Great Western with *real* characters for once!
gaityr22 September 2002
What I imagine makes THE NAKED SPUR stand out among other Westerns is its close, intimate focus on a small band of characters--for once, the motivations of the cynical bounty-hunter, the luckless gold prospector, the brash ne'er-do-well, the slick outlaw are actually all explored and explained as best as psychology can allow. The focus isn't on the action, though there's plenty of that too; one really gets the idea that the action is peripheral to the character development, to the glimpses of history given by snatches of dialogue. James Stewart turns in a riveting performance as Howard Kemp, the embittered rancher turned bounty-hunter, who is seeking outlaw Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) for the $5000 price on the latter's head. What Howard doesn't gamble on is the people added on to his journey along the way--the prospector Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell), who's been running after gold all his life but has never managed to catch up to it; the reckless ex-soldier Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker), discharged from the army for being 'morally unstable'; and the young feisty Lina Patch (Janet Leigh), Ben's companion.

Throw this bunch of opposites in a trek back to Abilene, Kansas is a recipe for great drama: for example, the mini Indian massacre Roy brings about that gets Howard shot in the leg; the rock avalanche Ben starts to try to escape after sending Lina to distract Howard... even the even-tempered, apparently rational and loyal Jesse being so blinded by his life's pursuit that he frees Ben in return for gold and certainly winds up regretting it. Throughout the trek, one sees Ben's true duplicitous side, as he charmingly manipulates each and every other member of the group into distrusting one another. He knows Howard as well, from back in Abilene, and he is the one who lets us in on some of Howard's painful past. (Brilliantly illustrated by the fevered dreams Howard suffers from while still in shock from the bullet in his leg.)

The entire small cast is excellent. Ryan is slimily charming, Mitchell plays Jesse straight and honestly, Leigh brings off a rather thankless, almost characterless role well (her character is probably the least well developed in the film). It is James Stewart, however, who really deserves special mention for his portrayal of Howard Kemp... particularly since he'd first thought that he was supposed to be playing the role of Ben Vandergroat, and had to be talked into taking the risk and playing Howard Kemp. One can certainly see why: Stewart's stock-in-trade is as the undeniably good hero, with whatever--if any!--psychological darkness (see George Bailey in It's A Wonderful Life) always lurking just beneath the surface but never enough to damage the character's positive standing in the audience's eyes. So of course, it's not easy to accept Stewart as the cynical, rude Howard at first--this probably is the least sympathetic character he has ever played, since the cracks in his tough, mean veneer come very seldom during the course of the film (and kudos to the writers for not having Stewart's innate goodness shine through more often and therefore use the audience's sympathies for the actor to bring some for the character).

Howard is driven and relentless, as evidenced with the near psychosis he brings to his task of capturing Ben. From his sullenness when Ben reveals how much the capture really is worth, through to the final exciting sequence when Kemp pulls himself up the rock to face his nemesis (thereafter making it clear why the film is given the title of 'The Naked Spur'), Howard Kemp is evidently a man who no longer trusts even *himself* to do the good thing. Quite a twist on the James Stewart persona, and certainly one he pulls off with great aplomb. His final scene with Janet Leigh, as Howard has to decide whether he can stand to lose his future to his past, definitely stands proud as some of Stewart's greatest work.

I watched this film largely because of a great review I'd read of it for Stewart's performance, and there is no denying that that is surely a good enough reason to watch this film. Stewart outdoes himself. Still, I got a lot more than I'd bargained for, because this really is an excellent, psychologically-charged Western as well--the kind that makes you feel and think, and it's only the better films that make one do that.
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On Ryan's Express
wes-connors26 July 2008
Looking at the IMDb "Awards" link will reveal this outstanding Anthony Mann western was nominated for a single "Academy Award", for the "Story and Screenplay" by Sam Rolfe and Harold Jack Bloom. The story (and much about the film) is excellent. Certainly, the writers deserved recognition for the intriguing story, and complex characters. But, to see "The Naked Spur" was not nominated for "Best Color Cinematography" is shocking. William Mellor's photography is truly superior. Perhaps, they felt one nomination was enough for a movie about greed...

James Stewart (as Howard Kemp), Janet Leigh (as Lina Patch), Robert Ryan (as Ben Vandergroat), Ralph Meeker (as Roy Anderson), and Millard Mitchell (as Jesse Tate) are an outstanding Colorado quintet. With Mann and Mellor directing, the small cast appears sprawling. Of the five, Mr. Ryan's intensely malevolent "Ben" reigns supreme; it's difficult to envision "The Naked Spur" without Ryan's psychological thorn throwing. Recipient Stewart is also at his best. The other three are great; though, more should have been to done develop and/or explain the relationship. Leigh had/has with Ryan and Stewart; she is underused. That, and a couple of continuity and/or editing problems may distract, slightly. We shouldn't be to be too greedy about great movies, after all.

********* The Naked Spur (2/6/53) Anthony Mann ~ James Stewart, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh, Ralph Meeker
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The Great Outdoors
telegonus3 December 2001
The Naked Spur, modestly budgeted, with a big-name cast, is among other things almost an experimental film, as it was shot almost entirely outdoors and uses no standing sets. Directed by Anthony Mann, it is one of the several pictures he made with James Stewart in the fifties, most of them westerns. It is a simple tale of complex characters. That the action takes place against the backdrop of the West cleverly conceals that the movie is a drama as much as anything else; almost Bergmanesque in its spareness, it deals more with the psychology of greed and revenge than with more traditional western themes, such as honor, which scarcely figures in the story.

Stewart plays a bounty hunter who is chasing after outlaw Robert Ryan for personal as much as monetary reasons. Even after he captures Ryan his emotionalism gets the better of him, as the outlaw preys sadistically on his vulnerabilities. Ryan's girl, Janet Leigh, is along for the ride, as are Millard Mitchell, as a crafty old codger, and Ralph Meeker, a disgraced army officer. None of these characters is admirable, as one would not want to encounter any of them (aside from Miss Leigh, that is) in a dark alley, or for that matter a bright one. Everyone in the film is deeply flawed and shows conflicting emotions. Aside from Ryan, each character has his good points, and some are likeable in spite of themselves. One never knows where Stewart stands with any of them till the end, as the power struggles that ensue are continuous and unrelenting, driving Stewart to near nervous breakdown.

This is neither a happy nor optimistic movie, and its high quality is typical of so many westerns of the fifties, managing to deal with serious psychological, moral, even economic issues in ways that were nearly impossible in films set in contemporary times. Yet for all its grimness the movie is a wonder to behold, as William Mellor's photography is stunning; and Mann makes excellent use of the rocky, mountainous terrain, so like the interior states of the characters. The depth of the film comes from the way it unfolds, and how well we get to know the people in it, rather than the plot, which tends to follow the characters rather than the other way around, unusual in a western. All the actors are fine, though good as he is as the villain I wish that Robert Ryan's part had been cast with another actor,--Barry Sullivan for instance,--whose dandyishness would have made a nice contrast to the others in the film, while Ryan's pathology, though perfectly embodied by the actor is also a bit predictable if one has seen Ryan in other films, as he had, at this point in his career, gone this way perhaps once too often.
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A western focusing on character development rather that simple bang, bang.
Mickey-222 January 2002
James Stewart and Anthony Mann worked together on several films during the 1950's, and this film, "The Naked Spur", represents a very satisfying effort, pooling the collective talents of a great star with a renowned director and letting a story tell itself on film.

There is very little action in the sense of a normal western, no shootouts in the streets, no bar-room brawls, no breakouts from the jail, or even a bank robbery. There is no town, period; the film was made outdoors in Colorado, and the scenery simply enhances and enriches the plot of the film.

Basically, James Stewart plays a bounty hunter, Howard Kemp, who has a chance to catch a major outlaw, Ben Vandergroat portrayed by Robert Ryan. To Kemp, capturing the outlaw represents a chance to make something of himself, start over, with no ties to the former failures he has met. Along the way, he bumps into a weather-beaten prospector, Jesse, played by veteran Milliard Mitchell, and a deserter from the army, played by Ralph Meeker. Ryan has a traveling companion, Lina, (Janet Leigh), and when Ben is captured, she does make efforts to free him, thus causing Stewart's character all sorts of grief and anguish. Ryan, in a starkly brilliant performance, also attempts to create chances to escape.

In watching the film develop, one has to wonder if Kemp will ultimately, due to his hardened nature, surrender Ben to the authorities, or will he simply let the outlaw go, and try to make a fresh start elsewhere. The answer comes at the side of a roaring river set between a rocky gorge. A very unique film, and one that deserves a watch by western fans.
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Taut, rugged western...grinning Ryan steals the show...
Doylenf21 December 2004
I never realized what a scene-stealer ROBERT RYAN could be until I saw THE NAKED SPUR. Although JAMES STEWART is the nominal big name star, it's Ryan's charming, snake-like villain who dominates this rugged western despite strong performances from the entire cast. He obviously relishes his role and is a joy to watch.

This is more a character study of a group of desperate losers than your average shoot 'em up western and Anthony Mann has directed it with the focus on the strong clashes between each one of them. RALPH MEEKER does an outstanding job as a war deserter who is both a help and a hindrance to the group as they seek to return outlaw Ryan to Kansas so justice can prevail. Stewart's character is given strong motivation for his deeds but Janet Leigh, as the outlaw's girlfriend, has a role that is not plausibly explained.

Photographed in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, it's a rugged kind of technicolor western that gives all of the performers physically demanding roles--and all of them are more than up to it.

Stewart, Leigh, Mitchell and Meeker are all superb--but it's Robert Ryan's devious villain that will linger longest in the memory.
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One of Stewart's best performances
Dewey-522 July 1999
Warning: Spoilers
The Naked Spur is a startling film, an adult western that pushes Jimmy Stewart's anti-hero to the brink of his own humanity. A morality play in some respects, the film sometimes feels like what "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" would be if the gold was a living, scheming, malevolent human being - Robert Ryan fulfills this role and drives the film with his devilish prodding of the "partners."

The film cranks up the desperation of its characters. They're all losers of some kind - Meeker's discharged soldier, the old prospector who's never struck gold, and most pitifully, Jimmy Stewart's emasculated Howie, who lost everything by trusting in love. Stewart constantly attempts to shed his decency and humanity, but in the end he can't - nor will Janet Leigh let him. At the film's shocking climax, it is she who pulls him back, just as he drags the body from the raging torrent. Stunning.
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I think I'm more of a John Ford Gal
abcj-221 May 2011
THE NAKED SPUR - (1953) - I remembered this film from my past for sure about the time Janet Leigh showed up. I saw it back in another western phase a year or two ago. It was definitely not my preferred kind of western. I prefer some moments of comic relief (not necessarily pure comedy) and a little less grit and grimace.

Jimmy Stewart was so conflicted and angry that I didn't equate him as the hero. He was way too uptight. I found him annoying and unattractive. I didn't think he and Leigh had any chemistry, and that made her part really unnecessary. For that matter, she was quite annoying and seemed to hop from man to man and not making informed choices. However, as a female stranded out west, I think she made the smarter call. Meeker and Mitchell were good, but other than to rankle Stewart's composure, I'm not sure their presence added much other than to make a bigger crowd. The real reason to watch, however, was for the one clearcut bad guy. I'll be on the lookout for Robert Ryan again. He was pure screen magic and made the film. Yes, the Hays Code causes Mann to have to let Ryan get the shorter end of the proverbial stick, but he still had a presence that made it hard to pull completely against him. Thus the need for a more clearcut hero.

I was a little hesitant about Anthony Mann if Stewart was going to keep playing the anti-hero type. I like a hero. Fortunately, "Winchester '73" put Mann and Stewart back on my radar. Now that is excellence at its peak. I think I'm more of a John Ford type gal, but I'm going to remain open-minded as I work through the Mann westerns. It appears that there are quite a few IMDb reviewers who also had some issues with Stewart. I may have to keep Stewart reserved for lighter fare as I adore him in The Philadelphia Story, Harvey, The Shop Aroundthe Corner, and many other comedies and romances. At least I have "Winchester '73" to add to my favorite westerns, but, unfortunately, not this Mann western.
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Millard Mitchell, an unsung hero in an Adult Western
NewInMunich25 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I want to sing the song of praise for Millard Mitchell, whom i have seen in supporting parts everywhere, from 12 O'clock High to Thieves Highway to Naked Spur and Winchester 73 together with Jimmy Stewart. And he does stand up to anybody in the cast, from lead men and fine actors Stewart and Ryan, as well as supporting cast Leigh and Meeker, which pretty much makes up for the whole cast. The story is maybe the darkest of the Mann / Stewart cooperation, with Jimmy Stewart as a man bordering to insanity in his fight to get 5.000 Dollars to reclaim his farm lost in the Civil War. He would stop from nothing until close to the end, when only he and Leigh are left alive. This is told in spectacular landscape in good pace and with all the twists and turns. And nobody is a clean character here, not Stewart, definitely not Ryan as the villain and murderer, Meeker as an discharged officer or the obviously under-age Leigh as Ryans love interest. Still worth watching after all the years, 8/10.
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Four Men And A Girl on the Trail
bkoganbing13 August 2005
The Naked Spur is another fine western put together by the team of Director Anthony Mann and player James Stewart. Spectacular location photography in the Rocky Mountains lend a ring of authenticity to the story.

That story being Stewart as a bounty hunter on the trail of outlaw/killer Robert Ryan who has a girl a long with him in the attractive form of Janet Leigh. Getting Ryan proves too much so he has to enlist the aid of prospector Millard Mitchell and army deserter Ralph Meeker.

Getting Ryan and Leigh back to collect the reward makes up the bulk of the film. Ryan is one evil, but very sly rogue as he works to turn the men against each other. His is the best performance in a small cast of seasoned performers each of one is fine in his/her part.

The final shoot out is a really well done climax of the story. Alliances shift and not everyone is among the living when the film is over. In fact the title of the picture gives a hint of how James Stewart uses a spur in a unique manner against Ryan.

For fans of westerns and I think non-western fans will find the drama and interaction among the characters entertaining.
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Brilliant and taut Western with wonderful use of locations and top-of-the-range cast
ma-cortes15 March 2013
An awesome rugged Western masterfully directed by Anthony Mann including his ordinary star, James Stewart . A bounty hunter called Howard Kemp (James Stewart) trying to bring a murderer to justice is forced to accept the help of two less-than-trustworthy strangers (Millard Mitchell , Ralph Meeker) . As he tracks down a vicious and cunning outlaw called Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) accompanied by his gorgeous sweetheart (Janet Leigh) . The ordinary dramatic framework about three men attempting to bring another back to justice is compellingly maintained . Entertainment and excitement increases until a surprising climax .

This exciting Western contains tension-filled , juicy atmosphere , thrills , suspense , gun-play and an impressive final on a high cliff which was one of filmmaker Mann's best moments . Magnificent western from the Anthony Mann/James Stewart team and their third collaboration and considered one of their best . Colour , music , scenarios , landscapes all marks well in this thrilling story about a compulsive bounty hunter who deals with four different roles . It describes a long journey in which there are extreme characters combined with psychological observations and enriched by eventual ambiguity and a tense picture about dishonesty and badness . This particular Western only starred by 5 characters contains an interesting screenplay by Sam Rolfe and being nominated for an Academy Award . By that time (1953) the picture was considered quite strong , tough , surprisingly violent and brutal ; today is deemed a classic film . And seems to be a great influence of wide range such as violence and scenarios . Filmed in Cinemascope in colorful cinematography by William Mellor ; Anthony Mann gets to take from nature the maximum impacts as rivers , valleys , mountains , being wonderfully photographed . Breathtaking background scenarios , dramatic close-up along with shining illuminations , all of them perfectly mingled with a tale full of violence , tension , intrigue and shoot'em up . When this film was released in Spain, its title was changed to "Colorado Jim" and the name of 'James Stewart's character was also changed from "Howard Kemp" to "Colorado Jim", for unknown reasons . The filming took place on location in Durango, Colorado , Rocky Mountains, Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, and Lone Pine, California . Nedless to say , the main and secondary cast is first-class . Top-of-the-range acting by the great James Stewart as a lone bounty hunter obsessed with hunting down the outlaw . There are top-notch acting from old-stagers as Millard Mitchell playing an aging prospector , as well as from Ralph Meeker as an ex-soldier and special mention to Robert Ryan as a leering killer . And delicate Janet Leigh , pretty much deglamourised here and sporting a new cropped haircut . Emotive as well as thrilling musical score performed by Bronislau Kaper .

This top-drawer Western was stunningly realized by the master Anthony Mann , infusing the traditional Western with psychological confusion , including his characteristic use of landscape with marvelous use of Rockies Mountains which is visually memorable . Mann established his forte with magnificent Western almost always with James Stewart . In his beginnings he made ambitious but short-lived quality low-budget surroundings of Eagle-Lion production as ¨T-men¨ , ¨They walked by night¨ , ¨Raw deal¨ , ¨Railroaded¨ and ¨Desperate¨ . Later on , he made various Western , remarkably good , masterpieces such as ¨The furies¨ , ¨Devil's doorway¨ and ¨Man of the West¨ and several with his habitual star , James Stewart, as ¨Winchester 73¨ , ¨Bend the river¨ , ¨The far country¨ , ¨Man of the West ¨. They are characterized by roles whose determination to stick to their guns would take them to the limits of their endurance . Others in this throughly enjoyable series include ¨Tin star ¨ that is probably one of the best Western in the fifties and sixties . After the mid-50 , Mann's successes came less frequently , though directed another good Western with Victor Mature titled ¨The last frontier¨. And of course ¨Naker spur ¨ that turns out to be stylish , fast paced , solid , meticulous , with enjoyable look , and most powerful and well-considered . This well acted movie is gripping every step of the way . It results to be a splendid western and remains consistently agreeable . Rating : Above average , the result is a magnificent Western . Well worth watching and it will appeal to James Stewart fans .
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a western with a conscience.
tmwest28 September 2002
This western achieves something remarkable, it brings back your sensitivity. From the start of the film, any scene that shows either human beings or even an animal being shot, you feel the bitter taste of it. The bounty hunter which in so many movies was the hero, is shown here with all his indignity. It was not an easy role for James Stewart and he comes out beautifully. Janet Leigh is excellent as a tomboy. As for the scenery of the Rocky Mountains with the predominance of the green of the trees with the snowy mountains on the background, it is on the same level with everything else on this film which can be rated as one of the best westerns ever made.
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Great Western That Still Rings True
gerrythree6 July 2004
Set in the post Civil War American West, The Naked Spur is more than a western. The director, Anthony Mann, took a script by two relatively unknown screenwriters (later nominated for an Oscar) and made a great picture about losers trying to survive in a tough postwar world. James Stewart, the star, plays a rancher who lost everything because before going off to the Civil War, he signed his ranch over to his girlfriend. In 1952, when this picture was filmed, World War II was no distant memory, the Korean War was going on and the idea that a soldier thought he wasn't going to return from a war was real enough. The writers and Anthony Mann placed the story almost a hundred years earlier, but the movie is about regular people on the skids. The cashiered Army officer, always looking out for number one, whatever the cost to others, had to ring true with war veterans in the audience in 1953. There is a villain, and Robert Ryan plays a great one, but James Stewart's character, Howard Kemp, is no hero. Ryan's character, Ben Vandergroat, complains that he knew Howard and he never did Howie any wrong, so there was no reason for Kemp to track him down, regardless of the reward money. Ryan has a point, a western hero doesn't hunt down someone just for money, knowing that if caught the person will be executed. But the scenic views of the Rocky Mountains, the great production values (including Technicolor) by MGM and the stars all are a façade for what could have been a film noir picture, Anthony Mann's earlier specialty. Stewart's character in The Naked Spur is trying to get back the ranch he lost after his world was turned upside down by war. The screaming nightmares he has, showing the psychological trauma the war was responsible for, would now go under the name post traumatic stress syndrome. War veterans trying to return to a normal life has always been a subject for movies, but rarely has the message been hidden as well as here. The Naked Spur is the type of class picture studios don't (or can't) make anymore, and that is the moviegoers' loss.
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Good cast in Western journey.
rmax3048232 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
After World War II, Jimmy Stewart's career seemed to stall. He was no longer the piping-voiced naive youngster, and it's difficult to believe that his war experiences hadn't affected his real character in some way. This was one of a series of Westerns Stewart made under the direction of Anthony Mann, one of the best and probably the most brutal. There had been an undercurrent of an unstable passion in Stewart's post-war movies, hinted at in "It's a Wonderful Life," especially the scene in which Stewart is on the phone, about to accept a job that will take him out of Bedford Falls, and decides instead to stay in town as Donna Reed's husband. When he grabs her, trembles, and sobs into her hair, Donna Reed -- the actress, not the character -- seems almost embarrassed by Stewart's intensity. That's the part of his personality that this movie cashes in on.

What a cast! Jimmy Stewart is a bounty hunter driven by revenge. Robert Ryan is the prey he captures, along with the girl, Janet Leigh. Ralph Meeker is an ex Army officer, thrown out because he was judged "morally unstable." Millard Mitchell is a wretched prospector. And what odious characters they play! Stewart is haunted by his demons and is not a superman by any means. He can't climb a rope up a sharp cliff face but Ralph Meeker can. Meeker himself is a scuzzbag who almost gets everyone killed because of his treatment of a Blackfeet woman. Leigh thinks she loves the outlaw and murderer. Mitchell is one of life's losers -- fundamentally decent but willing to do just about anything to strike it rich. Ryan is superb. He transcends himself as the unshaven, sloppy, jocular, philosophical captive who is worth a lot of money, dead or alive. Everyone joins in to bring him to the law but things fall apart and only the center can hold. After all the bullets and treachery and skulduggery, only two survivors are left. Guess who.

It's relatively realistic, unlike, say, a Gene Autry or Randolph Scott or early John Wayne Western. As these folks travel through forests and up and down mountainsides, they look dressed for the part, in thrown-together dusty wardrobes of no particular distinction. Stewart -- the hero, mind you -- wears unglamorous chaps while he rides his favorite horse, Pi. Ryan looks the worst of all, his black hat tilted back on his head, all smiles and laughter. The script even gives him a bit of dignity. When Stewart unties Ryan's hands and challenges him to draw, Ryan claims his hands ain't fit, and says, "If you want to murder me, Howie, you'll have to make it look like what it is." Ryan's range was greater than he's sometimes given credit for. Even strictly as a heavy, he could inform the role with a variety of characteristics. His heavy in "Crossfire" is polite and subordinate except when crossed, when his eyes seem to glitter with menace. His heavy in "On Dangerous Ground" is coldly psychopathic. His heavy here, had he been in a contemporary movie, would have been one of those happy-go-lucky killers with "BORN TO BE BAD" tattooed on his upper arm.

Of course, today the fist fights and shootings seem tame -- hardly a drop of blood in sight -- but at the time it was pretty dark stuff. Interesting film. You probably won't be bored.
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The Naked Spur
jboothmillard19 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
On TV, it was either this western, or the apparently rubbish fantasy film by Sir Ridley Scott starring Tom Cruise called Legend, and I think I made the right decision. From director Anthony Mann (Winchester '73), this western sees Howard Kemp (James Stewart) meet Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell), and then sheriff Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker). He doesn't explain why for a little while, bu Howard is looking for and trying to catch wanted criminal Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan), and when he catches him after a little gun battle, along with Lina Patch (an attractive Janet Leigh), he reveals the high reward for Vandergroat's capture, and they all (apart from Lina) make a deal to split the reward when they reach the town. On the journey they encounter disagreements, a great Indian battle that ends with Howard hallucinating from a gun wound, and the film ends with all but Howard and Lina dying, and eventually forgetting the reward completely (for love, duh). Typical and predictable in a couple of places, but still a good film, and obviously I love almost anything with James Stewart (one of my most favourite actors). Good!
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Why should you split the bounty? Can you get the money and the girl?
michaelRokeefe7 December 2002
Anthony Mann directs one of the best filmed westerns ever. A bounty hunter(James Stewart) is on the trail of a murderer(Robert Ryan)who is headed toward California with a lovely younger woman(Janet Leigh). Along the way Stewart picks up the aid of an old prospector(Millard Mitchell)and a former soldier(Ralph Meeker). The prey is captured and bound and his cockiness causes the trio of bounty seekers to start turning on each other. A lot can happen on the way back to Kansas. Filmed in the Rocky Mountains, NAKED SPUR is one of the best cinematic westerns of its time. Stewart is pretty much Stewart, but I am more impressed with Ryans' attitude that almost steals the show. Very good story line, great scenery and expected thrills filmed in beautiful Technicolor.
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The morality of bounty hunting--really well made but well worn conflicts and themes.
secondtake7 February 2011
The Naked Spur (1953)

This is a classic straight forward and somewhat clichéd but professional western, with very solid acting and very solid direction, photography, and scenery. That's great, and that's the flaw of it all, this lack or originality. The core of it is action adventure, and an unlikely merging of unsavory characters. At first it's an outlaw that is being sought (Robert Ryan, a youthful bearded Ryan), then it's the Indians who are a danger (and the white gang of good guys and bad guys unite agains this new foe). Heading the posse, if you can call it that, is James Stewart, who is always pretty amazing. And there is the surprise woman in the group, an almost unrecognizable Janet Leigh. Eventually the group has to cross an inhospitable (and beautiful) landscape in all kinds of weather. It's powerful in the themes, if a little familiar in its themes.

Ryan is the highlight here. Stewart is billed first, but he's an uncomplicated hero, and Ryan plays a more convoluted type. The woman is at first Ryan's, it seems, but then it gets complicated. And the other two figures in this roving band take on opposing roles, as well. Leigh, in short hair (a 1950s style, and a good one), is really different, and she does fine. This cast of five is the entire credited cast (the Indians don't count, I guess, with no speaking parts). And because it's a small group, it gets increasingly personal. And good.

Director Anthony Mann is clearly in good form, making a routine script take on both psychological and kinetic edge. Everyone is trapped a bit by a routine script, but Mann makes it really tight and smart. The color photography is also trapped by the routines of beauty in the great Western landscape. The best scenes, at night in a cave, for example, are constricted and tense, really visually wonderful. Sometimes a simple tracking shot will follow someone across bumpy landscape with perfect grace, an invisible cue that the crew is really working hard, laying dolly track, making a difficult scene look easy.

The one really interesting theme that grows slowly until exploding at the end is the morality of hunting someone down just to turn them in for money. The bounty. And the bounty hunter. Well, with Janet Leigh there to help persuade you to higher goals, I supposed Jimmy Stewart can be forgiven. Or praised. You watch and see.
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"You've got him, but he's got you too."
classicsoncall18 November 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Sometimes I think screen writers take an idea and run with it even if it wouldn't hold up in a real life situation. To add some meaning to the title of this picture, Jimmy Stewart's character Howard Kemp uses a spur from one of his boots to claw his way up a rock wall. But how exactly would that work? The tines of a spur could never take that kind of abuse, much less find harbor in a rock face. Then, when Howard struck Ben (Robert Ryan) in the face with it, the logistics of it seemed to stretch credibility to the max. Suspending disbelief though, it was kind of cool and almost made sense.

I haven't seen Stewart in this kind of characterization before. I've seen him mean but here he was downright nasty at times. During his first encounter with prospector Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell), it took a while to figure out if he was an outlaw or a good guy. And even when it's established he's a good guy, we find that he's part of what some would consider a dishonorable profession, a bounty hunter trading lives for money.

I'm kind of puzzling over the scene in which Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker) shows Howard his dishonorable discharge. I had an impression that maybe Howard couldn't read because he didn't react to it and simply handed the document back to Roy. A similar scene occurred later on in the story as well to leave that ambiguity intact.

The interesting dynamic in the story for me was the transformation of Janet Leigh's character. I didn't quite get the impression that she was Ben's 'girl' so to speak. After all, Ben explained that Lina's father was his best friend, so there was quite an age disparity there, not to mention one of temperament. But you still had that age differential with Howard, so how the two 'found' each other over the course of the picture made for a compelling story.

Say, did you catch that crazy horse spill during the Indian attack? At one point Howard shoots one of the warriors riding away from him and the horse topples over sideways, rolls over the rider and stands up straddling him. There's no way that could have been planned and it's one of the wilder stunts I've seen that couldn't have been pulled off any better. I wonder what the stunt-man thought of it when it was all over.
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Spurred on by Naked Greed
JamesHitchcock13 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The significance of the title "The Naked Spur" is twofold. On the one hand it has a literal meaning, referring to an incident in which one character, attempting to climb a rock-face to take an adversary by surprise, is betrayed by the noise his spurs make against the rock. On the other, there is also a symbolic reference to the motives of the characters, spurred on by naked greed.

None of the characters is altogether free of this vice, which is surprising given that the leading role is played by James Stewart, an actor who in most of his previous films had played men who were unambiguously sympathetic. In this film, however, he was clearly attempting to extend his range. His character, Howard Kemp, is a bounty hunter trying to capture an outlaw named Ben Vandergroat, who is fleeing from Kansas, where he is wanted for murder, to California. Kemp intends to take Vandergroat back to Abilene to stand trial. He is not, however, motivated by indignation at Vandergroat's crimes or by sympathy for his victims, but rather by the $5000 reward he will receive.

Along the way Kemp has, somewhat reluctantly, acquired two companions, an unsuccessful elderly gold prospector named Jesse Tate and Roy Anderson, a former soldier dishonourably discharged from the Army. (His discharge, however, does not prevent him from continuing to wear military uniform). With their help he manages to capture Vandergroat who, to his surprise, has a female companion, his mistress Lina. The five begin their journey back to Abilene, but it is clear that Kemp's problems are only just beginning. Vandergroat may be a rogue, but he is a cunning and plausible one. He tells Jesse and Roy about the reward money for his capture, something of which Kemp has deliberately kept them ignorant. In a bid to regain his freedom, he skilfully manipulates the weaknesses of his captors, Roy's eagerness for a share of the reward, Jesse's hunger for gold and Kemp's growing attraction to the beautiful Lina.

Visually, this is one of the most attractive Westerns ever made, with breathtaking photography of the Colorado Rockies. Apart from its visual splendours, it is also a very good example of a type of Western which was becoming more popular in the fifties, the psychological, character-driven Western which concentrated more on interactions between the various characters than on action. All the main roles are well played, including Robert Ryan as the vicious but wily Vandergroat, Ralph Meeker as the aggressive, amoral Roy (one can well understand why the Army decided it could afford to dispense with his services) and Millard Mitchell as Jesse. This role owes something to another elderly prospector, Howard in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", but unlike Walter Huston's character, Jesse has not been taught by experience to beware of what gold can do to men's souls. (I wonder if the fact that Kemp has the Christian name Howard is a reference to the earlier film).

The two most morally complex characters are Lina and Kemp, the only two who survive at the end of the film. Although Lina might be the daughter of one outlaw and the lover of another, she is basically a decent person who has been deceived by Vandergroat; he has falsely assured her that he is innocent of the accusations against him. Kemp also has a spark of decency within him. Although he is by no means an unambiguous hero, neither is he a straightforward villain. Although the reward for Vandergroat is payable "dead or alive", Kemp always refuses to kill him, preferring to take him back to Abilene alive so that he can stand trial. In the course of the film we learn exactly why he is so obsessed with claiming the reward for Vandergroat's capture. While he was away fighting in the Civil War (the action takes place in the late 1860s, shortly after the end of the war) he was deceived by his fiancée who not only left him for another man but also sold his farm and kept the proceeds. He needs the $5000 in order to buy the farm back and, as he sees it, regain his self-respect. The ending of the film, in which Kemp abandons that ambition in favour of a new life with Lina, can be seen as his redemption scene as he realises that self-respect cannot be bought by hunting a man down for the price on his head. James Stewart's decision to abandon his normal clean-cut image to play a flawed, ambiguous character was clearly a wise one, as he gave one of the best performances of his career.

The film received one Oscar nomination but was otherwise overlooked by the Academy. Admittedly, 1953 was a strong year, but I suspect that this neglect may have owed something to the Academy's traditional disregard of the Western genre, seen as providing only cheap entertainment. Today, however, we can see from films like "The Naked Spur" (and others from this period such as "High Noon" and "The Big Country") that it is a genre capable of far more than that. 8/10
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Great Acting And Good Direction In Moving, Tragic Western
ShootingShark17 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
A rancher-turned-bounty-hunter, an old prospector and a discharged army officer form an uneasy alliance when they capture a convict with a pricetag on his head, and attempt to escort him and his girl across high Sierra country back to justice.

Superficially, this movie looks like a lot of fifties westerns, but under Mann's tight direction and an excellent script by Sam Rolfe and Harold Jack Bloom it breaks away from all the genre clichés. For a start it's all beautifully shot on location in the Colorado Rockies, contrasting the harsh drama against some incredibly gorgeous backdrops. More importantly however, all of the characters are refreshingly original and expertly played. Stewart, far from the conventional hero, is a rather pathetic figure, unable to affect the action, constantly falling down and driven against his better judgement by his greed. Ryan is a wily enemy, bound and unarmed, who uses his wits to pit his captors against each other. Leigh, for my money the most stunningly beautiful actress of her day, plays the whole movie in men's clothes with boyish short hair. Meeker is his ever-reliable grinning psychotic self and Mitchell brings great dignity to what would be the comedy feisty-old-man role in a lesser western. The film is a western, but also an odyssey, a five-character play and a classical tragedy - no-one gets the money, a party of Injuns hunting Meeker are massacred dishonourably, Ryan, Mitchell and Meeker all die, and Stewart's only hope of a better future is to abandon his past and his purpose. There aren't many laughs in this picture but it's a terrific example of the lyricism and visual splendour that some great westerns have.
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Grim western is a James Stewart classic
NewEnglandPat23 June 2003
James Stewart has made a career of portraying loners in western features, especially with Anthony Mann as the director, and this film ranks as one of their best. The Colorado Rockies provide the setting for a brooding, grim adventure of a bounty hunter's greed and insecurity as he seeks to rebuild his life. Stewart's quarry here is Robert Ryan, an outlaw with a girl in tow. Janet Leigh is the tomboy riding with Ryan although their relationship is unexplained. Other assorted types join the small group as they make their way through the wilderness, and the clever Ryan needles the men constantly, knowing that their mistrust of one another could be the key to his escape. This western is more about drama and situations than action, although there is a fair amount of gun play along the way.
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Flame Is The Spur
writers_reign16 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
By the 1950s the Western was evolving from the simplistic John Ford/John Wayne fables to a more in-depth approach that would culminate in the 'psychological' westerns of the sixties. Henry King kick-started both the genre and the decade with The Gunfighter which removed the Roy Rogers glamorous wardrobe and guitar and showed a much more realistic West. Ironically Anthony Mann's The Naked Spur was released the same year as George Steven's all-time Great Shane which managed to combine the best of both worlds via Alan Ladd's light-coloured 'glamorous' shirt with the harshness of life on the open range. Naked Spur is definitely in the vanguard of 'psychological' Westerns and cunningly contrives a chamber piece - only five characters - set in wide open spaces to appear claustrophobic via the close-knit tensions between the five. Initially each one is out for himself with only the weakest link, Janet Leigh, ostensibly united with Robert Ryan but inevitably the balance shifts so that what began as Stewart, Mitchell, Meeker, three single units united uneasily against Ryan and Leigh, evolves into sole survivors Stewart and Leigh forming a new alliance. Ryan, of course, excelled in this kind of role which he could do standing on his head, Mitchell and Meeker lend sterling support and if Leigh is the weakest link it is Stewart who actually gets to extend his range, leaving behind the gauche, Gary Cooper-lite bashful nice guy and exploring a much darker side of his personality. On TV recently it held up well after 57 years.
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Classic Raw Hide!
rbrb6 February 2008
Super western, with beautiful scenery and an excellent cast.

The plot centers on a cowboy bounty hunter bringing back, dead or alive, an outlaw and to achieve this purpose the cowboy must navigate the rugged countryside of the 1860's, and in the process has to fend off the elements, including the weather and terrain, Indians, and others who want a share of the bounty, plus there is "love" interest in the guise of the bad man's moll.

The outlaw is not only a real man, but is a real "baddie" too, and steals the show with his portrayal and the mind games he plays on the others in the story.

There is a rawness and ruggedness about this picture, and in my view deserves to be regarded as a classic with the super cinematography of the apparent realistic scenes showing the "wild west".

Current film makers should take note that despite this movie being well over 50 years old, what with its' rugged realism and dynamism it surpasses most modern day flicks.

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