Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel


Directed by King Vidor. Written by Borden Chase and D.D. Beauchamp from the novel by Dee Linford. Photography, Russell Metty. Editing,Virgil W. Vogel. Art, Alexander Golitzen, Richard H. Reidel. Music, Joseph Gershenson. Cast: Kirk Douglas, Jeanne Crain, Claire Trevor, William Campbell et al. 90 minutes.
King Vidor was a major figure who even in his lesser films invariably had very fine moments, mostly of stress. These were photographed with powerful use of camera angles, swooping shots, and imaginative juxtaposition of sight and sound. "Man Without a Star" is a case in point, and though not at the top of the Western-filled 1950s (a period that tried to bring new depth and scope to the genre), it does a most creditable job of a fairly familiar situation.

Easygoing rider Dempsey Rae ( Kirk Douglas), an ambulant cowboy, takes a greenhorn kid (Campbell) under his tutelage, to his (Dempsey's) future but only temporary sorrow. He gets involved in a war between Open Spacers and Barbed Wirers. He hates the wire which "is catching up with me again."

The movie is uneven, has contrived parts, prettified situations, and one of those awful 1950s openings where balladeers or crooners (in this case Frankie Laine) sing awfully, miserable songs with miserable lyrics.

The barbed-wire, don't fence-me-in symbolism is heavy-footed. But there are many gratifying aspects: much convoluted, tense and tight action with original twists and moments The camera work is beautiful. Director of photography. Russell Metty did three fils for Orson Welles: "The Magnificent Ambersons,"(with two other cinematographers), the visually amazing "Touch of Evil, " and "The Stranger." Some of his other credits include Howard Hawks' "Bringing Up Baby," John Huston's "The Misfits," and "Spartacus" for which Metty was awarded an Oscar.

As for Kirk Douglas, his part and performance are variants of something he can do blindfolded, the role of the champion who won't bend.

Jeanne Crain, the female lead, was primarily a sweet thing or a pretty ingenue. Her filmography is a mixed bag, her roles were on the thin side --with one outstanding exception: in Elia Kazan's "Pinky," a sensitive, gripping, courageous and pioneering drama released in1949. Crain played Pinky, a very light-skinned black girl who passes for white. Otherwise, in much of her work I find beautiful Jeanne seldom fully convincing or interesting.

In "Man Without a Star" her unexpected casting as an opportunist -- even her first name, Reed, is masculine -- is original and works out rather well. The supporting cast includes such reliable character actors as Richard Boone, Jack Elam and Jay C. Flippen. Other female parts went to the excellent, earthy Claire Trevor and to the exotically named Mara Corday. The latter worked almost exclusively in B-films, (to put it charitably, since many were C-pictures) In "Man" her performance may or may not be notable, but the movie itself was the best she ever appeared in. (Edwin Jahiel)

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel