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THE FAR COUNTRY (1954)

The Far Country - CoverArrow Academy’ have recently released a digitally enhanced version of ‘The Far Country’. It was directed by Anthony Mann; it starred James Stewart, John McIntire, Ruth Roman, Walter Brennan, Jay C. Flippen, and Corinne Calvet; and it lasts for 97-minutes. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the two-disc Blu-ray edition comes with the original theatrical trailer, an image gallery, a widescreen presentation, two documentaries focused on Anthony Mann's career, as well as a brand new audio commentary provided by the film scholar, Adrian Martin. Please enjoy.


The Far Country [Arrow Academy]


THE STORY: 
Ever since me and my friends first arrived in this part of the country, I’ve been called a thief, I’ve been called a murderer, and I’ve been called a low-down dirty cattle rustler. Which isn’t surprising, not really, considering that I’m all three of these things rolled into one. What does surprise me, though, is the fact that you would dare have the audacity to call me a hero!

Why? Why would you want to do such a thing, Ms. Castle (Ruth Roman)? Why call me a hero, despite my sordid past? Is it because I saved you and your men from getting buried alive in that treacherous avalanche? Or is it because I stood up to the Mayor of Skagway, Judge Gannon (John McIntire), just before we set-up shop here in Dawson City? Either way, that’s most probably why what next transpires goes, ring-a-ding-a-ling, when you turn to me and say, ‘Shut up, Jeff (James Stewart), and give me a kiss’. As a brand new town starts hunting for gold - an evil man becomes awfully cold - deeds for a land get unlawfully sold - and at the end of the day, please remember, a hero’s journey is sometimes brave and bold.




THE REVIEW:
In many ways, ‘The Far Country’ is like a good old-fashioned morality tale because it managed to work on three very specific levels. On one level, it’s a historical piece, chronicling the evolution of a capitalist society. On another level, it’s a love story, revolving around two women and a rugged outlaw. And on yet another level, it’s a film about transformation. Or in other words, how the choices we make can sometimes transform the way we think and behave, either for the good, the bad, or the damn right ugly.

The Far Country - James Stewart, Ruth Roman, and Corinne Calvet
You see, when this Western begins, we’re introduced to an outlaw named Jeff (played by James Stewart) who previously killed two men over a herd of cattle he now wants to sell. But for him to be able to do this, he has to evade the authorities, dodge the bad guys, and travel all the way to a small gold mining town located in Alaska, called Dawson City, where he can sell his livestock to the people who are living there. Well, that’s what he intends to do; until Jeff runs into two ambiguous characters that end up altering his journey: Judge Gannon, a malevolent political figure who‘s greedy and mean, as well as Ms. Castle, a shrewd entrepreneur that fancy’s Jeff and wants to use him for her own devices.

But fear not, dear reader, because along the way Jeff meets three trustworthy allies who each lend him a helping hand. One of them is called Ben, Ben Tatum, and he acts as a parental figure who attempts to steer Jeff’s life in a more positive direction. Then there’s Renee, a possible love interest, who seems to be the yin to Ms. Castle’s yang (with an additional juvenile edge). And last, but not least, there’s Rube, a disheveled old drunk, who starts the film in one condition and ends it in another. But then again, this is a transformative film, and as such, changes the way most of the cast behaves by putting them into situations that aren’t always straightforward or easy to resolve.

For instance, in one stage of the story, Jeff has to choose if he wants to defend the people of Dawson City or let them get robbed by Judge Gannon and his gang of thieves (Hint: There’s more of them and less of him). Whereas, in another stage of the story, Jeff has to decide if he should rescue Ms. Castle from being stuck in the snow, or let her freeze to death with the rest of her compatriots (Hint: Love conquers all). Either way, choices are made, and in each case, each choice affects everyone within the vicinity, one way or another.


The Far Country - Poster


Now, where the overall look of this film is concerned, and visually, I’d say that the entire production was easily divided into two categories. On the one hand, most of the sets looked like sets because they were flatly lit and possessed a matted quality that didn’t give them a lot of depth. Whereas, on the other hand, all of the real-life panoramas were breathtaking to behold, ranging from the glacial backdrops, to the rustic trails, and the muddy valleys that dipped and meandered for as far as the eye could see. In fact, the contrast between the two was so drastic at times, on occasion, it almost took me out of the picture due to the sudden shift in style. Not completely out, mind you, as this is still a brilliant film and definitely well worth watching.

The Far Country - Corinne Calvet
Anyway, enough of that for the time being, because now I think we should all sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) ‘Universal’ first released this production in London, England, on the 22nd of July, 1954. (2) Loosely translated, this project was entitled ‘Where the Gold Calls’ in Denmark, ‘I am an Adventurer’ in France, and ‘The Land Removed’ in Romania. (3) Throughout their respective careers, Anthony Mann directed James Stewart eight times in total, and this film was film number six. (4) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states, ‘From Alaska's First Violent Days of Gold-Rich Glory Comes the Story of THE STRANGER WITH A GUN!’. (5) The majority of this movie was shot inside ‘Universal Studios’, located at 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, California, although some scenes where shot on location throughout the Canadian city of Alberta. Most notably, Athabasca Glacier and Jasper National Park! (6) According to certain sources, the character of Gannon was partly based on a 'confidence artist' named Soapy Smith, who ran the town of Skagway during the Alaska Gold Rush. (7) In 1955, James Stewart earned an extra $300,000 from this film because he had a contract that stated he could take home a percentage of its profits. (8) Although, the one thing James wasn’t able to take home, was the horse he used while making this adventure. His name was Pie, he was a sorrel stallion, and James rode him in seventeen Westerns because he thought he was more intelligent than the other horses.


The Far Country - James Stewart, John McIntire, and Walter Brennan


In closing my review of ‘The Far Country’, I’d now like to rank each performance in order of preference. So, at the top of my list, I’d like to select the star of the show, James Stewart, or as I prefer to call him, Clint Eastwood 2.0, because James was able to channel some of Clint’s future mannerisms in the way he played Jeff, including his taciturn stare, his reluctant demeanor, and his stoic temperament, doing so while still retaining his regular James Stewart persona. Up next, a notable mention has to go out to three members of the supporting cast. Namely, John McIntire, for playing Judge Gannon with a devilish charm; Ruth Roman, for playing Ronda Castle with a matriarchal edge; and Walter Brennan, for playing Ben Tatum with a fatherly demeanor. All of which brings me quite nicely onto the last two actors I want to praise: Jay C. Flippen and Corinne Calvet. Although, in their case, I would say that Flippen’s performance reminded me of a lukewarm version of Gabby Hayes, whereas Corinne’s performance reminded me of a retro version of Zooey Deschanel, but only on account of their respective roles being marginalized within the grander scheme of things.

The Far Country - James Stewart and Ruth Roman
Well, let’s face it, a significant slice of this story was determined to ask and answer one simple question: Can an outlaw change the error of his ways if he has previously committed some fairly devilish deeds? Personally, I don’t think he can. Not in the long term, at least, because for someone to change their behavior they have to forget their past and embrace their future! Which isn’t easy, not if they’ve spent most of their life lying, cheating, and putting themselves above others. Although, on second thoughts, if they have the right people around them and aren’t afraid of some good old-fashioned hard work? Well, in that case, yes, there is a modicum of hope. But only a modicum, mind you.

Anyway, all that aside, and on the whole, I would just like to say that this film was a marvelous film and I would highly recommend it to fans of James Stewart, Western parables, and anyone who enjoys transformative tales with charismatic characters. 

THE RATING: A-

THE FAR COUNTRY (1954) THE FAR COUNTRY (1954) Reviewed by David Andrews on November 25, 2019 Rating: 5

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