During my college years, when I was discovering what cult films were via Danny Peary's books, I was also re-discovering westerns. I had grown up watching Clint Eastwood movies of all kinds and inevitably burned through a bunch of his westerns. They were great of course and piqued my interest in the genre, but I soon moved off of them and Eastwood and on to Charles Bronson, Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. It wasn't until my first college film course that I would rejuvenate my love for the genre. They showed us RED RIVER, RIO BRAVO and THE SEARCHERS and I was hooked. These movies were so good, I could see how an empassioned fanbase could have started around them. I wouldn't quite see them as "cult" movies though until after I saw a few more like them and read more from Mr. Peary. Soon after that, as I was combing through Peary's Cult Movies books, I came across MAN OF THE WEST. It served as my introduction to both Gary Cooper and Anthony Mann. I had never seen Cooper in his classic role in HIGH NOON and it was an interesting thing to see him first in this movie. His character in MAN OF THE WEST is not a picture of gallant courage by any means. He's kinda shady in fact. Keeps changing his name whenever folks ask him and seems generally shifty and nervous about some previous activity (all we know is he has a decent amount of cash with him). It's a neat setup. We don't really get to know who Cooper's character is till much later. Many westerns don't try to do anything like this and come out if the gate quickly, establishing what each character is all about. When I first saw it (and again upon this rewatch), it struck me as out of the ordinary for a western (in a good way). The movie also had a great amount of tension throughout. I've always been fascinated by how much the primal nature of outlaws in westerns really makes for some remarkable tension. They have nothing to lose and are willing to kill at the drop of a hat. Makes for some high stakes poker in a metaphorical sense. So I really liked MAN OF THE WEST from the get go and Danny Peary's defining it as having cult status started to make sense. From that point, I started to look for that "out of the ordinary" quality in all kinds of films. Previous to that, "cult" movies has just been oddball fringe stuff often involving some weirdness or other. It was movies like MAN OF THE WEST that helped me start to see the more subtle qualities that could make a movie stand out and perhaps garner a fervent following. I know there are many fans of Anthony Mann's films still out there today, but I'm not sure how active the cult of MAN OF THE WEST still is. From the uninitiated point of view nowadays, it might just be a sleeper western with Gary Cooper. He's great in the movie and he was 57 years old when he made it (he'd sadly only line to be 60). Between this and THE HANGING TREE in 1959, Cooper closed out his career with two excellent westerns. A solid way to go out for sure.
The cast also includes Lee J. Cobb, Julie London, Royal Dano and a very young Jack Lord.