Monday, December 14, 2009

The Far Country

I'm beginning to wonder how many times Walter Brennan played a cowboy on a cattle drive! In The Far Country (1955), he and James Stewart are partners in a venture to drive a herd of cattle from Seattle to Skagway, Alaska, to Dawson, Canada, because beef is selling for a high price in the Klondike Gold Rush town.

What's interesting in the beginning of the movie is that the cattle are loaded onto a ship for the journey from Seattle to Skagway. Along the way, they encounter numerous problems. Sound familiar? Yep, I thought of 21 Days to Tenstrike, too. There's a corrupt lawman/judge and the partners meet a mysterious woman and a French-speaking girl, all of whom have major roles in The Far Country.

After the men arrive in Dawson, the plot takes a turn and reminds me, at times, of Night of the Red Dog, in that Jeff and Ben are mining gold in order to get enough money to buy themselves a spread in Utah, where they plan to spend the rest of their lives in comfort. There's also a scene straight out of the Pilot: When Jeff is in a saloon getting a drink, his adversary the "lawman" slides a gun down the length of the bar; Jeff is supposed to take it but someone persuades him not to reach for it.

One of the problems is that Jeff Webster (Stewart) is accused of murder right after he boards the ship to Skagway but, unlike Kid, he has friends who hide him. Ben Tatum (Brennan) tells Jeff they're on another cattle drive with problems--that sure does sound familiar! And then a comment is made that "trouble seems to follow" Jeff--that sounds familiar, too! There's a scene I find very interesting because it quotes prices for food and cattle; I don't know if they're accurate or not but Ben brings a plate of beef and potatoes to Jeff and says it cost $5.00, at which Jeff expresses surprise. Ben then says that beef in Dawson is bringing $1.00/pound a hoof and more than $10/pound when dressed.

A note about the cinematography: Throughout much of The Far Country it looked to me like the background was done in matte shots but according to the closing credits, the movie was filmed in Jasper National Park, in the Canadian Rockies. Well, the transfer to DVD clearly leaves something to be desired because I would never have thought the background scenery was on location if I hadn't been told.

Some trivia: Jeff comes from Wyoming. The corrupt lawman character was modeled after Soapy Smith, who resided in Skagway for a while. A minor character is named Gant. Bud Westmore did the make-up. This is a Universal film.