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The Naked Spur

Color, 1953
Directed by Anthony Mann
Runtime: 91 minutes

Starring James Stewart (Howard Kemp), Janet Leigh (Lina Patch), Robert Ryan (Ben Vandergroat), Ralph Meeker (Roy Anderson), Millard Mitchell (Jesse Tate)

The film opens to snow-capped mountains, and the surrounding hilly, wooded country.  Howard Kemp, acting as a bounty hunter, is tracking a man (Ben Vandergroat) who has killed a lawman back in Texas.  Kemp runs across a grizzled prospector named Jesse Tate, who helps him pick up the outlaw's trail.  As the two search for Vandergroat, they come across a dishonorably discharged soldier (Roy Anderson), who appears to be both reckless and slightly unhinged.  The three join forces to find Vandergroat. When they do find him and his female companion, Lina Patch, Anderson and Tate agree to help take Vandergroat back to Texas in order to collect a $5,000 reward.

Knowing that it is a long ride back to collect the reward, Vandergroat tries various methods of pitting his three captors against one another and sows general discontent.

Because Anderson raped a Blackfoot girl before meeting up with Kemp on the trail, a group of Indians have been tracking him.  The Indians close in and attack the entire group. During the exchange, Kemp is shot in the leg.

While recovering from the wound, Kemp rambles feverishly in front of Lina as she tends to him. His past story unfolds before her: Kemp's girl sold his ranch when he went to fight for the Union in the Civil war and she left with another man.  Kemp wants the reward money for Vandergroat to buy back his lost ranch. As Lina cares for Kemp's wound, her allegiance begins to shift away from Vandergroat. 

Realizing that Tate, the old prospector, might be lured by the promise of gold, Vandergroat makes a private deal with him, promising to take Tate to a nearby gold find if he helps him and Lina escape.  Tate agrees and aids with an escape, but Vandergroat kills Tate as soon as they are away.

Anderson and Kemp follow the escapees, and a shootout in the rocks ensues between them and Vandergroat. Lina, whose loyalties have shifted, prevents Vandergroat from firing a fatal shot.  Kemp climbs the face of some high rocks to reach Vandergroat, using his spur to make it up the final few feet. Upon reaching the top, Kemp throws his spur in the face of Vandergroat, then kills him.

Vandergroat's body falls down into a rushing river below. Anderson recklessly jumps in the water to retrieve the body for the reward, but he drowns in the process.

Kemp also moves to get the body so he can return it for the reward, but decides against it when he realizes how disturbed Lina has become as she witnesses his relentless pursuit of the reward money (and his apparent obsession with the past).  Kemp comes to his senses; the two bury the bodies and return to Texas together.

Plot Keywords: bounty hunter, revenge, redemption, moving on from the past, love triangle

Scenery: Mountains, rocky terrain, wooded hillsides.

The Naked Spur is available on DVD.

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