We simply cannot believe this! Get our agent on the phone!
Adding to our embarrassment, this happens to be one of Ryan’s best performances. Ryan steals every scene as a smirky, aggravating fugitive who manipulates those around him. And we had no clue!
Ryan plays Ben Vandergroat, a wanted man from Kansas with a $5,000 sticker price. James Stewart is Howard Kemp, a troubled and vengeful man determined capture Vandergroat and cash him in. Early in the movie, Kemp meets grizzled Jesse (a barely-recognizable Millard Mitchell), and Civil War vet Roy (Ralph Meeker). These three serendipitously capture Vandergroat, along with his unexpected companion (Janet Leigh).
Now, it turns out Kemp and Vandergroat knew each other back in Kansas. The opportunistic Vandergroat twists the tragedies in Kemp’s life to turn the other two captors against Kemp – and each other. These are the best parts of the movie: Stewart’s unstable character struggling to keep himself together, while Ryan’s smug character continually goads him.
Admittedly, we didn’t expect Leigh to be very good here, but we were wrong. She’s so natural in this element we wonder why she didn’t do a ton of westerns. She’s tough and feisty – and as unglamorous as any 1950s Hollywood make-up artist would allow.
For regular western fans, there’s lots of the typical action here, like yelling, chasing and shooting. But this is also a pensive film that examines the concept – and consequences – of getting revenge.
We are really quite embarrassed that we hadn’t heard of this movie before. Don’t let this happen to you! It’s not too late! Make sure you see it the first chance you get.
Starring James Stewart, Janet Leigh and Robert Ryan. Written by Sam Rolfe and Harold Jack Bloom. Directed by Anthony Mann. MGM, 1953, 95 mins.