From lone coyote to "public-minded citizen" is the rake's progress, "always the long way." James Stewart's introduction at the Seattle paddle steamer compresses a whole off-screen Red River of stubbornness and mutiny into a snarl for the cowhands and a handshake with the shaggy partner (Walter Brennan), thus the trajectory beyond the Yukon border with a pit stop in booming Skagway. The wrangler enjoys his solitude, the top-hatted Alaskan despot (John McIntire) meanwhile is pitiless and gregarious, as blithe a terror as Judge Roy Bean: "I'm gonna like you. I'm gonna hang you, but I'm gonna like you." (Similarly, Ruth Roman with her saloon scales and Corinne Calvet as the immigrant in pigtails embody two more sides of the pioneer urge.) Gold and beef hold sway in Anthony Mann's keen economics lesson, a pivotal work for Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller if ever there was one. The nascent settlement in the midst of the Klondike Gold Rush has had its fill of bear stew, a school and a church and a good steak are the utopian goals amid mud and snow; the cutthroat marshal muscles in as "an invasion of Canada," the rambling cynic takes a bullet and, at last, a stand. To become part of the community, "a soberin' thought," the hero squints in the distant valley as the rumbling avalanche buries the rest of his caravan. ("Mann's mise en scène is definitely influenced by Stewart's style of acting," declares Rivette, or is it vice versa?) The shattered hand from The Man from Laramie is already visible, so is a distinct Eastwood shot (Brennan in the foreground facing the camera by the river's edge, armed riders materializing in the rocky background). The dilemma is worked out under the floorboards, the "ringing, ringing" of Frost's traveler scores the beautifully suggestive still-life at the close (cf. Daves' The Hanging Tree). Cinematography by William Daniels. With Jay C. Flippen, Connie Gilchrist, Kathleen Freeman, Harry Morgan, Jack Elam, Steve Brodie, Robert J. Wilke, Chubby Johnson, Royal Dano, and Connie Van.
--- Fernando F. Croce