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Film / The Man from Laramie

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The Man from Laramie is a 1955 film directed by Anthony Mann and starring James Stewart. The fifth and last of their Western film collaborations, it was adapted from Thomas T. Flynn's novel of the same name, which had first been serialized in The Saturday Evening Post the previous year.

The setting is The Wild West at some indefinite time that seems to be not long after the Civil War. The man from Laramie is Will Lockhart (Stewart), a freighter who has just arrived at the small town of Coronado from — where else? — Laramie, Wyoming to deliver a load of goods for the general store run by Barbara Waggoman (Cathy O'Donnell). Will goes to scoop up some salt from the local salt flats, only to be assaulted by Barbara's violent, unstable cousin Dave Waggoman (Alex Nicol). Dave's father Alec (Donald Crisp) owns the Barb Ranch, a huge property that includes the salt flats. Dave not only assaults Will but burns his wagons and shoots most of his mules before he is intercepted by Vic Hansbro (Arthur Kennedy), Alec's ranch foreman and surrogate son.

The pragmatic Alec pays off Will for the loss of his property and urges Will to leave town, as hot-headed Dave has it in for him. Will, however, refuses to leave. He is quietly asking questions about repeating rifles sold to the local Apache Indians, rifles that the Apache used to ambush and destroy a cavalry troop. As it turns out, Alec Waggoman is friendly with the Apache.

Provides examples of:

  • Artistic License – Medicine: Apparently, a head injury from a fall off a cliff can "hurry up" a case of deteriorating eyesight and leave the victim blind.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Will does this when Dave starts shooting at him while Will is trying to collect Miss Canady's cattle. Because he is a sociopath, Dave has his cowboys grab Will and hold him, and Dave then shoots Will right through the hand.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Both Dave and Vic have scenes of them chewing out Alec for his respective treatment of them. Not that he cares much...
  • Crime Of Self Defence: Dave made it pretty clear to Vic that only one of them was leaving that mountain-top alive. Most of the conflict of the latter half of the film comes from the fact that Vic can't just explain this without revealing his and Dave's side business of selling rifles to the Apaches.
  • Dead Hat Shot: In the burnt out remains of the wagon train, Will finds his brother's burnt and bullet-riddled campaign hat.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Fundamentally at the heart of the (numerous) issues that both Dave and Vic have is the fact that Dave doesn't feel like either his father nor Vic respect him enough as the presumed heir of the Waggoman land, and Vic doesn't feel like either Alec nor Dave respect him enough as the guy who's basically been left to run the ranch and try to keep a leash on Dave.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: For all their faults, Alec repeatedly insists that he genuinely does love Dave despite knowing what a messed-up guy he's grown up to be.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The two members of Dave's group who restrain Will while Dave shoots through his hand are clearly visibly disturbed by the act and even help Will up onto his horse afterwards.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Possibly the most absurd example ever: a wooden wagon bursts into flame after falling 30-40 feet off a cliff. OK, fine, the wagon was carrying a shipment of rifles, but rifles won't burst into flame when you drop them either.
  • Face–Heel Turn: When Vic makes his first appearance, he seems like a fairly reasonable guy despite being on the side of the tyrannical Waggomans. By the end of the film, he's responsible for at least one murder, another attempted murder, and we even find out he's ultimately (indirectly) responsible for the death of the protagonist's brother that basically kickstarted the whole thing.
  • The Film of the Book: Or, in this case, the Film of the Serial Novel.
  • From Dress to Dressing: After Will shoots his gun out of his hand, Dave wraps his neckerchief around his injured hand.
  • Hollywood Darkness: Used many times for scenes obviously supposed to be at night, like the fight between Chris and Will, where there's light enough to throw shadows.
  • Injun Country: The dangerous Apaches attacked a cavalry troop with repeating rifles sold to them by a white man. At the end, they kill Vic for not delivering the rifles.
  • Karmic Death: Arguably suffered by Vic as he is shot at by Apaches with the very rifles he and Dave had previously sold to them.
  • Kick the Dog: Two major examples:
  • Like a Son to Me: How Alec feels about Vic, clearly liking him better than Dave while at the same time loving Dave because he's blood. When Alec confesses that his eyesight is rapidly deteriorating and he will soon have to hand the ranch over to Dave, he asks Vic to stay and be a guiding hand to Dave.
    Alec: Love him like a brother, and I'll love you like a son.
  • Love Triangle: At the beginning of the movie Barbara is engaged to Vic and begs him to run away with her. But as time passes she is increasingly drawn to Will.
  • Maybe Ever After: Will knows that Barbara intends to quit Coronado and head back east. He smiles, and invites her to stop in Laramie on the way and look him up.
  • Non-Protagonist Resolver: Despite Will spending the entire movie on a personal revenge mission against the man who sold the guns to the Apaches, thus causing the death of his brother, he ultimately kills none of those involved: Vic and Dave were the ones selling the guns; Vic kills Dave and, although Will's actions contribute to Vic's death, he chooses to let Vic go which results in Vic being shot and killed by the Apaches. The Apaches themselves only suffer the loss of a wagonload of guns.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with Will riding away on his horse, having saved Miss Canady's ranch, and with Vic having been killed by the Apache.
  • Plot Hole: The whole business with Chris Boldt the "town drunk" doesn't make any sense. Boldt approaches Will with some sensitive info that he wants to sell—presumably, the identity of who's running guns to the Apaches. Will tells him to get lost. Shortly thereafter, Chris attempts to murder Will, but Will fights him off. Soon after that, Chris is murdered. Near the end, Alec says that Vic killed Chris. What this doesn't explain is 1) why Chris tried to kill Will, and 2) why Alec killed Chris, if he even did. Even if Chris was trying to expose Vic as the gun runner, how would Vic have known that?
    • Besides the above (which could be explained away as Alec being in shock due to Vic trying to kill him and exaggerating Vic's villainy as a result by pinning Chris' death on him too), there's honestly no earthly reason why Vic doesn't even try to pin the entire gun running plot on Dave when confronted about it by Alec. To clarify, by the time Alec suspects anything is wrong, Dave is dead (and therefore can't contradict what Vic says) and Alec himself had been pushing Vic to support his son at any cost. During the initial discussion of the matter, Alec is even indicating to Vic that he'll accept Dave's guilt as an explanation for the wagonload of guns they paid for. But for whatever reason, instead of Vic saying something along the lines of "Dave was responsible for all this and I just went along because I wanted to spare you, plus you were always telling me to keep him out of trouble", he instead immediately goes on the defensive which only serves to heighten Alec's suspicions.
  • Retired Badass: According to Dave, Vic and Kate, Alec Waggoman was apparently quite undeniably impressive as he was building and expanding his ranch. By the time the story gets going, however, he's an old man who is rapidly losing his eyesight. He's still not necessarily a man to be tangled with though.
  • The Sociopath: Dave, who understands nothing beyond his desires. He arranges to deliver a whole wagon load of rifles to the Apache, just so they can take out Will and Kate Canady's rival ranch. When Vic points out that they'll surely also massacre the town of Coronado with its women and children, Dave spits back "They're not mine!"
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Vic's final descent into full-on Big Bad mode by attempting to murder Alec and calling the Apaches to collect a wagonload of guns (which he had earlier killed Dave to prevent) has shades of this.
  • Title Theme Tune: Which became a hit for Al Martino (in the US) and Jimmy Young (in the UK).
    The man from Laramie
    Oh, he was friendly to everyone he met
    No one seemed to know a thing about him
    He had an air of mystery
    He was not inclined to speak his mind
    The man from Laramie
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: The knowledge that Alec respects Vic more than him, and gives Vic operational control of the ranch, enrages Dave.
    Alec: (to Dave) I hate to tell you this, but you're not the man I was.
    • In a non-biological example, Vic sees Alec as a surrogate father and a lot of his own issues clearly stem from the fact that Alec is constantly switching between claiming to see him as a surrogate son (and a preferable one to Dave), and saying that he basically wouldn't hesitate to kick Vic to the curb if it meant giving Dave a leg-up in life.
  • What a Drag: Dave does this to Will on their first meeting. Through a fire, no less...