The Naked Spur (1953) was the third of five westerns between actor James Stewart and director Anthony Mann. Stewart plays Howard Kemp, a bounty hunter from Kansas pursuing Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) who killed a lawman, but Howard is seeking more than the money in this intriguing story.
Howard crosses paths with old prospector Tate (Millard Mitchell), who joins him for $20, and with a dishonorably discharged Cavalry officer Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker). When they catch Ben, who is traveling with Lina (Janet Leigh), he realizes his only chance of escape is to divide the men. He reveals Kemp hasn’t been on the up and up as there’s a $5,000 reward. Tate and Roy think they deserve an even share and decide to travel back to Kansas with Howard.
On their journey, Blackfoot Indians begin to follow them. Roy reveals he is the reason because he raped the Chief’s daughter. Howard sends him off, but a battle ensues. Howie catches one in the leg, and while in shock he calls for Mary, his girl he had been seeing before he entered the Civil War. Ben reveals how the relationship ended, which explains why Howard is so determined to collect the bounty.
The script by Sam Rolfe and Harold Jack Bloom is very well written. The five main characters are compelling and behave in realistic ways that keep their actions from being completely predictable. This leads to good plots twists in the story as the characters make choices that seem true to their character. However, the final choice made by Howard is inexplicable. He makes a decision between love and money yet it’s not one that he had to make as could have had both.
The video is available in a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed in the original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The colors look great with the rich browns and lush greens of the locations standing out. The image is sharp with mild film grain, most noticeable against the blue skies. Blacks are inky and shadows are captured well.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and the original mono is pleasing. Dialogue is clear. The effects are realistic, and the roar of the rapids comes through with a good amount of sonic force. Composer Bronisław Kaper’s score is adequate but sounds thin at the high levels.
The extras are
- Things We Can Do Without (9 min) – Directed by and starring Dave O’Brien, this short is filled with corny gags about a home with modern conveinences.
- Little Johnny Jet (7 min) – Released the same year as The Naked Spur, this Tex Avery short sees a B-29 bomber dealing with life in the jet age.
- Theatrical Trailer (3 min)
The Naked Spur is a classic ’50s western and the teaming of Stewart with Mann helped the former reveal the breadth of his acting range. The high-definition presentation from the Warner Archive should please fans of the movie and those new to it.