The Man From Laramie (1955) is a western made in New Mexico. It has to do with a fictitious place by the name of Coronado. Will Lockhart (James Stewart) arrives one day carting three wagon loads of supplies. In a more perfect world he would have delivered the goods, got paid, and gone away. In the movie, however, things go wrong almost from the start. After a cattleman burns Lockhart’s wagons, shoots his mules, and drags the man himself through a campfire, Lockhart, against all logic, refuses to leave. He wants satisfaction.
Just about every element in the drama that ensues can be found in an assortment of other westerns. Among these are family ties that are inviolable. On Lockhart’s ride in, the residue of a massacre comes into view. Eventually, it is learned that Lockhart lost a brother in this affair. It involved Apaches, unscrupulous arms sales, and a vast territory not yet subject to the rule of law or time-honored custom. In town, he heads straight to Waggoman’s Mercantile. Basically, Waggoman owns all of Coronado and is eager to see Lockhart complete his business and move on.
It may not seem flattering to call attention to the background in a film, but those adobe walls, wooden beams, and hanging chili vines do not suggest New Mexican whereabouts. They are the real McCoy. Several scenes take place in a churchyard with simple and familiar Spanish architecture. A pueblo enclosure is the setting for a wedding. The imdb list of locations includes Santa Fe, Tesuque, and Taos.
Interestingly, Lockhart does not get “the girl”. He is far from immune to Barbara (Cathy O’Donnell), but his motivations are otherwise employed. In fact, the real movie, or movie within the movie, concerns the simmering interior of this character. Certain shots, such as a moving camera close-up with psychologically-matched music, emphasize as much. Waggoman compensates Lockhart for losses and allows him to flee unmolested. Yet he stays on and in due course becomes the chief suspect in two murders only because he is an outsider.
At least one online review highlights the use of scenery in this collaboration between James Stewart, actor, and Anthony Mann, director. The eerie rock formations, parched earth, and mountainous skylines are all New Mexican signatures. Technically, NM is an artificial creation since none of its borders are natural. All the same, it is magnetic and always wins the attention of both the naked eye and the camera eye.
It is hard to believe looking back how popular westerns once were. Had it not been for this peculiarity, The Man From Laramie might enjoy an even better reputation than it already does. As such, it is merely another timeless American classic.