In 1896, Jeff Webster sees the start of the Klondike gold rush as a golden opportunity to make a fortune in beef, and woe betide anyone standing in his way. He drives a cattle herd from Wyoming to Seattle, by ship to Skagway, and (after a delay caused by larcenous town boss Gannon) through the mountains to Dawson. There, he and his partner Ben Tatum get into the gold business themselves. Two lovely women fall for misanthropic Jeff, but he believes in every-man-for-himself, turning his back on growing lawlessness, until it finally strikes home.
Is there something you want, Mr. Gannon?
Cunning Western from a director who had few peers in the genre. Much like other Anthony Mann pictures, The Far Country blends a potent pot boiling story with an adroit knowing of impacting scenery. Both of which play out amongst some of Mann’s peccadilloes like honour, integrity, betrayal and of course, death!
The story sees fortune hunting partners Jeff Webster (James Stewart) and Ben Tatum (Walter Brennan) travel to Oregon Territory with a herd of cattle. Aware of the blossoming gold-boom, they plan to make a tidy profit selling the cattle in a Klondike town. Arriving in Skagway they find self-appointed judge Mr. Gannon (John McIntire) ready to meet out justice to Webster on account of Webster having fractured the law, all be it with honest cause, along the way. In punishment Gannon takes the partners herd from them, but they steal them back and head across the Canadian border to Dawson – with Gannon and his men in hot pursuit. Here beautiful women and a meek and lawless town will fill out the destinies of all involved.
Interesting from start to finish, The Far Country benefits greatly from James Stewart’s bubbling (anti) hero in waiting portrayal and Mann’s slick direction of the tight Borden Chase script. The cinematography from William H. Daniels is superlative, though not done any favours by current DVD prints, and the film has a few surprises and a “will he wont he?” core that’s reeling the viewers in.
Paying dividends on re-watches for hardened genre fans, it still remains something of an essential viewing for first timers venturing into the wonderful, yet dark, Western world of Anthony Mann and James Stewart.