For this latest Western Night Movie session, David Morrell chose MAN WITHOUT A STAR (1955), a range war story, though routine in some ways, is still not the usual one you might expect.
Dempsey Rae (Kirk Douglas), a cowboy with a good saddle but no horse, befriends Jeff Jimson (William Campbell), a greenhorn kid who has a lot to learn about almost everything. They get hired to work on a sprawling cattle ranch in Wyoming where the new owner is set to arrive soon and has had the most unheard-of thing installed in the big house: an indoor bathroom. And if that’s not enough of a surprise, the new owner is a woman, Reed Bowman (Jeanne Crain), and she has very set ideas about how her ranch will make money, and she doesn’t care if it ruins the other cattle ranchers.
Ably directed by King Vidor (BILLY THE KID, DUEL IN THE SUN) and based on a novel by Dee Linford with a screenplay by Borden Chase (RED RIVER) and D. D. Beauchamp (THE MAN FROM THE ALAMO), the film centers on Dempsey, a rascally, happy-go-lucky fellow who puts up with a lot, but there’s something about barbed wire that sets him on edge. Douglas (excellent in THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, ACE IN THE HOLE, PATHS OF GLORY, among others), was at the height of his career, often playing devil-may-care ladies’ men and action heroes (there are a number of fight scenes here), but he also tends to get pretty hammy playing some his scenes. As red-haired Reed Bowman, Jeanne Crain (nominated for an Oscar for PINKY) moves from headstrong boss to sultry ally cat and back again with ease.
Also, about the title, it’s no secret that for years Hollywood has taken a novel and made changes turning it into a film. In Larry McMurtry’s HORSEMAN, PASS BY, which HUD was based on, the main character in the novel was not Hud, but rather his young nephew. In Dee Linford’s novel, the greenhorn kid is both the central character and the “man without a star” of the title who starts out with no direction, no guiding light, no moral principle.
Gorgeously shot by Russell Metty, who would later win an Oscar for best cinematography for SPARTACUS, MAN WITHOUT A STAR runs 89 minutes and is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Along with David, award-winning author and New York Times best-selling author of FIRST BLOOD that introduced the character Rambo, our group includes Johnny D. Boggs, record nine-time Spur Award-winning author and Owen Wister Award winner whose work includes his latest, THE COBBLER OF SPANISH FORT AND OTHER FRONTIER STORIES, Kirk Ellis, Emmy winning screenwriter and producer and also author of the book RIDE LONESOME about the production, themes and historical relevance of that classic Western film, Kirk’s wife, Sheila, and Robert Nott, award-winning journalist and author of several books on Western films, including his recent THE FILMS OF BUDD BOETTICHER.