‘The Man From Laramie’: Conflicts With Hidden Motives

Director Anthony Mann’s collaboration with James Stewart is one of his best.
‘The Man From Laramie’: Conflicts With Hidden Motives
James Stewart is Will Lockhart, in “The Man From Laramie.” (Columbia Pictures)
Ian Kane

NR | 1h 43m | Drama, Western | 1955

Until James Stewart played a mysterious revenge-minded character named Lin McAdam in the 1950’s outstanding Western “Winchester ’73,” he was mainly known for starring in contemporary dramas and romcoms. It also marked the first movie in an eight-film collaboration between Stewart and visionary director Anthony Mann.

Having admired many of the movies that they made together, it was only a matter of time before I got around to watching “The Man From Laramie”—sadly, the last of the Stewart-Mann coupling. Fittingly, as with “'73,” 1955’s “Laramie” again has Stewart playing a stranger who rides into a small town with a grudge to settle—although for completely different reasons.

Here, Stewart plays Will Lockhart, who leads a three-wagon mule train packed with supplies he’s transporting from Laramie to a small little dust-choked town on the New Mexican frontier known as Coronado.

Lockhart sees some burnt wreckage not far from their trail and suddenly orders the wagon train to halt and set up camp. One of the men working for him, grizzled old scout Charley O'Leary (Wallace Ford), doesn’t like it; they’re not close to their destination, and in dangerous Apache territory. But Lockhart is resolute.

There, he surveys burned and destroyed wagons and tattered U.S. Cavalry uniforms. When the small train makes it into Coronado, Lockhart sallies up to Waggoman’s Mercantile to unload their cargo for payment, and meets Barbara Waggoman (Cathy O'Donnell). Lockhart soon discovers that she is part of the prominent Waggoman family, which owns the Barb Ranch. He asks for cargo for his now-empty wagons, Waggoman suggests salt from a dried-out lagoon not far from town.

Will Lockhart (James Stewart) runs into trouble, in “The Man From Laramie.” (Columbia Pictures)
Will Lockhart (James Stewart) runs into trouble, in “The Man From Laramie.” (Columbia Pictures)

Before leaving the store, Lockhart spies a shiny new repeating rifle on the wall. He decides to stick around in Coronado for a little longer. Trouble soon finds him in Barbara’s hot-tempered cousin Dave Waggoman (Alex Nicol).

One of the more enjoyable aspects of this film is that its characters are complex, not half-baked cardboard cutouts seen in other films from Hollywood’s Golden Age. For instance, the Waggoman family patriarch, Alec (played by esteemed actor Donald Crisp), faces physical limitations due to age which will cause him to eventually lose his grasp on power. But instead of being heavy-handed and cruel, he engages his two would-be heirs with the utmost of guile and diplomacy.

Alec Waggoman could have easily had Lockhart killed many times, but is a fair-minded man who sees parts of his younger self in the interloper from Laramie, and so resists any fiendish urges, much to his son’s chagrin.

Dave Waggoman (Alex Nicol) is a loose cannon, in “The Man From Laramie.” (Columbia Pictures)
Dave Waggoman (Alex Nicol) is a loose cannon, in “The Man From Laramie.” (Columbia Pictures)

Alec Waggoman struggles to choose a successor to his sprawling ranch between his irresponsible biological son, Dave, and the more deserving foreman, Vic Hansbro (Arthur Kennedy), which underscores the weight of legacy and the complexities of familial loyalty. This dilemma sets a stage where power, incompetence, and violence mingle, highlighting the tragic flaws of its characters.

Stewart’s portrayal of Will Lockhart, who arrives in Coronado with a secret vendetta, adds a layer of intrigue and emotional depth to the film. His original quest for revenge gradually morphs into a broader confrontation with the dangerous forces in and around Coronado.

Actress Aline MacMahon also lends her considerable chops to the production as the spirited Kate Canaday, a local rancher who has a romantic past with Alec, but is now treated as a rival. Her interactions with Lockhart and subsequent revelations about his intent, pivot the story from a simple revenge tale to a rich study of character and motive.

Mann’s exquisite direction, coupled with Charles Lange’s exceptional cinematography, captures the vast, unforgiving landscapes of the Old West, a metaphor for the isolation and moral wilderness that many of its characters navigate.
Barbara Waggoman (Cathy O'Donnell) and Will Lockhart (James Stewart), in “The Man From Laramie.” (Columbia Pictures)
Barbara Waggoman (Cathy O'Donnell) and Will Lockhart (James Stewart), in “The Man From Laramie.” (Columbia Pictures)

“The Man From Laramie” has deservedly become a hallmark of the Western genre and brilliantly showcases the culmination of the prolific collaboration between James Stewart and director Anthony Mann. Stewart’s performance as Lockhart, a man who balances between grim determination and a profound sense of duty, encapsulates the essence of the Western hero: bound by a code of honor and ultimately yearning for peace and justice.

“The Man from Laramie,” is available on Amazon, FuboTV, and Vudu.
‘The Man From Laramie’ Director: Anthony Mann Starring: James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Crisp Not Rated Running Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes Release Date: Aug. 31 1955 Rated: 4 stars out of 5
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Ian Kane is an U.S. Army veteran, author, filmmaker, and actor. He is dedicated to the development and production of innovative, thought-provoking, character-driven films and books of the highest quality.
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