The Lonely Man (1957)

July 4, 2009 § Leave a comment

A remarkably under-appreciated Western — it isn’t even in my handy-dandy 1570 page movie guide — I was originally attracted to this film for the simplicity of the title as well as the cast. It features Jack Palance as a reformed gunfighter and Anthony Perkins as his son.  Palance plays Jacob Wade, interested to start a new life with a son he didn’t raise, provided former enemies will stay away, and a town somewhere will actually let them stay.  Palance is both understated and excellent, and Anthony Perkins so mellow as his bitter, abandoned son it seemed a little like he was just proving he’d memorized his lines. But in a stark, beautifully shot, black and white film understated performances work better than overblown ones so as not to distract from a quiet, simple and beautifully told story.

There’s even a fairly obvious, beautiful but elusive symbol for happiness quite literally charging through the film infrequently, along with great shots of actors (or possibly stunt people) galloping at full-speed through the landscape with such rousing music it made me want to buy a flippin’ horse.

Watch Jacob Wade make contact with his son again here. The movement Perkins brings to the scene is so languid it manages to be slightly puzzling even as it suggests he’s drunk, and depressed. And the music isn’t overdone — it registers with the viewer, but declines to do anything more than remain mournful, even after the one moment of action in the scene.

I’ve been given the impression a lot of Westerns were produced in the fifties, but this one deserves to be among those remembered — it may have the kind of closure you predicted from the early moments, but it’s still a remarkably satisfying and well-crafted film. Unforgiven (1992) with Clint Eastwood won four Academy Awards, telling the story of a man who leaves a peaceful life of retirement to become a gunslinger again, for reasons that don’t seem terribly valid by the end of the film. The Lonely Man got there first, though it tells the story the other way around. It’s a film that deserves better than to be discontinued on DVD.

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