The Westerner


Action Western Romance
100 min     7     1940     USA


Drifter Cole Harden is accused of stealing a horse and faces hanging by self-appointed Judge Roy Bean, but Harden manages to talk his way out of it by claiming to be a friend of stage star Lillie Langtry, with whom the judge is obsessed, even though he has never met her. Tensions rise when Harden comes to the defense of a group of struggling homesteaders who Judge Bean is trying to drive away.


John Chard wrote:
Law West of the Pecos. The Westerner is directed by William Wyler and written by Niven Busch, Jo Swerling and Stuart N. Lake. It stars Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Fred Stone and Doris Davenport. Music is by Dimitri Tiomkin and cinematography by Gregg Toland. Story is a fictionalised account about Judge Roy Bean (Brennan), who here rules Vingaroon Town by his own law and punishment. When suspected horse thief Cole Harden (Cooper) comes under his judicial system, they become odd friends due to Harden claiming to know personally Lily Langtree - the object of Bean's worship. Lots of uncredited work was involved in the making of The Westerner, while Cooper famously sulked about not having the main character role, so much so his part was expanded and he performed under contract but under protest! Fact is is that it is as everyone has said before, Brennan steals the film regardless, winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in the process. Cooper needn't have worried, he's very good here, turning in a number of various strains to Harden's character, bouncing off of Brennan to the pics eternal benefit. At the core of the plot is a good old fashioned thread involving Homesteaders versus Cattlemen, with Bean throwing his weight around and Harden forced to reevaluate his standing in the town when he falls for Jane Ellen Mathews (Davenport). The Lily Langtree (Lilian Bond) strand gives the pic an offbeat sensibility, making this a sort of dramatic comedy oater, but it works really well. Toland's photography is superb, sharp black and white sequences are given ethereal qualities, hinting at the fact this at times fun picture might be leading to a darker path? Davenport is weak and most of the supporting players struggle to make much of an impact, but come the attention grabbing finale you know you have been fed a wholesome western of substance. Propelled by two acting legends. 7/10
CinemaSerf wrote:
Though not given top billing in this cracking cowboy adventure - the film certainly belongs to Walter Brennan. He, rather uncharacteristically, portrays the quite nasty piece of work "Judge Roy Bean" of Vinegarroon. When "Cole Harden" (Gary Cooper) arrives in this backwater Texan town, he's accused of and summarily convicted of stealing a horse. Some quick thinking, a few coins and a photo of actress Lily Langtree manage to save his bacon long enough for him to befriend the judge before he gets involved in a ruthless turf war between the local cattlemen against the homesteaders. Brennan is smashing. Evil, but his adoration of Langtree gives him a smidge of humanity too. Cooper is fine but very much in Brennan's Oscar winning shadow. William Wyler keeps this taut and focussed, and with the added contributions of Forest Tucker, Chill Wills and Dana Andrews who help it all along well, too, it is one of these largely forgotten westerns that if you get a chance, you definitely ought to watch.