This rock-solid Western is brisk, terse, and full of excellent performances..and for once, a Jimmy Stewart film doesn’t find its leading man stealing the show! Oh, Stewart, as the money-craving-yet-ultimately-noble bounty hunter Howie Kemp, is very good—a sequence in which a wounded Kemp begins raving in the middle of the night is particularly outstanding—but he’s a bit more inconsistent than usual here, occasionally seeming to be going through the motions. He’s vastly superior in It’s a Wonderful Life, Vertigo, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington…even Destry Rides Again, a fellow Western from 14 years earlier. The real star here is the rugged Robert Ryan as Ben Vandergroat, an outlaw with a $5,000 reward on his head. With his curly locks and face full of stubble, Ryan perfectly balances boyish charm, which comes in handy for manipulating those weaker than he, and a cutthroat self-interest. Janet Leigh (as Ben’s faux-niece Lena), Millard Mitchell (as haggard Jessie Tate, the oldest of the bunch with dreams of living out his life in comfort), and Ralph Meeker (as Roy Anderson, a womanizer who was dishonorably discharged from the Army) all hold their own with aplomb. The chemistry throughout the crew is excellent, and a good thing too: aside from a brief encounter with a band of Indians, nobody else even makes a guest appearance! Vandergroat’s repeated attempts to set the partners—who have no history together—against each other as they attempt to turn him in and collect their $5,000 is extremely convincing: in the lawless plains with only horses as witnesses, there’s a real sense of foreboding, like anything is fair game. An edginess lingers over The Naked Spur, particularly at night. There’s a predictability to how things end up, particularly between what evolves as a triangle of love and loyalty between Howie, Ben and Lena, but it’s written well enough to overcome that. All in all, a very strong entry into a genre that can get repetitive at times, carried predominantly by its cast and the steady hand of Mann behind the camera.

74/100