The Anthony Mann/James Stewart Ring Cycle; or, Silver-Screen Hero as Everyman

“The heroes in modern action movies seem to spend the whole films WINNING.”

Lordy, how I wish I had come up with that zinger, by blogger dcairns of Shadowplay, because it explains a lot.

These days if you don’t get insta-happiness in the time it takes to make instant coffee (for those who do), Tang breakfast drink (to date me), or Google a question (that would be most people with Internet access), life is a failure.

Blogger dcairns offers as contrast to the lame insta-heroes of today the tortured (literally) heroes of the Anthony Mann/James Stewart cycle, which for those in the know is a series of films as epic and fanfreakingtastic as Wagner’s Ring cycle (oh no, no overstatement).

Five of them—and yes, we’re talking some powerful numerology:

Winchester ’73 (1950)

Bend of the River (1952)

The Naked Spur (1953)

The Man from Laramie (1955)

The Far Country (1955)

In three of these especially, Stewart has to overcome some pretty horrifying obstacles to his happiness (which ranges from seeking justice to wreaking revenge). Stewart’s aw-shucks It’s-A-Wonderful-Life persona goes through some, well, let’s just say “changes” in these movies. The first of the Mann/Stewart vehicles, Winchester ’73, portrays Stewart pursuing a wanted man, practically to hell and back. Stewart goes through road rage in The Man from Laramie, but for good reason–he’s shot through the hand by the dastardly villain–and becomes more and more convinced there is a connection between that man and the death of his brother. The Naked Spur shows him obsessed by bringing in a wanted man for money–at whatever the cost.

Unpleasant role models to say the least–as much as Stewart is a fetching figure in a holster and boots. But his heroic journey is closer to the Everyman than any of Chuck Norris’s fightfests. His journey follows the path of self-awareness that most western heroes tread, and boy, is it a rocky one. In each of these three, Stewart travels from character flaw to conflict to character flaw to conflict, seemingly unable to quit the quest that so identifies him. When he finally can lay aside his quest, and usually only with great inner turmoil, as in The Naked Spur, the viewer sees a truly heroic deed.

from sony pictures repertory

Tomorrow: More on this. Right now, it’s time to write the novel. Talk about character flaw–how about procrastination through blogging????

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