Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Naked Spur

This 1953 movie, which was filmed in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Story or Screenplay, bears a passing resemblance to The Bounty Hunter in that it's about a man who has captured an outlaw and is determined to bring him in no matter what happens along the way.

Howard Kemp, the bounty hunter, is played by James Stewart. He pays an old prospector to join him and a dishonorably discharged soldier attaches himself to the pair (played by Millard Mitchell and Ralph Meeker, respectively). When they find outlaw Ben Vandergroat, played by Robert Ryan, they discover that he is accompanied by Lina Patch (played by Janet Leigh), the daughter of one of Vandergroat's accomplices. This is the entire speaking cast of The Naked Spur and the rest of the movie is about the interplay between the characters as they travel back to Abilene, Kansas, where Kemp intends to turn Vandergroat over to the law and claim the substantial reward on him. There is plenty of action and drama and adventure as the movie unfolds.

Vandergroat reminded me, vaguely, of Heyes because he was constantly using his silver tongue in attempts to talk himself free. With very little effort, he was able to sow discord among his captors by exploiting their weaknesses. But in one very important respect, he was completely different from Heyes--Vandergroat was on his way to Abilene to face a murder charge, and everyone knew he was guilty.

I found it interesting that the prospector and soldier could just, more or less on a whim, decide to pick themselves up and follow a complete stranger on a journey halfway across the country, just because they hoped to share in the reward. I can't imagine something like that happening nowadays, and the fact that it seemed plausible in The Naked Spur only shows how much American society has changed in the past 140 years or so.