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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Man Without a Star (Blu-ray)
Man Without a Star (Blu-ray)
Kl Studio Classics // Unrated // August 27, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted August 30, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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Long before the term "high-concept" movie came into use, Hollywood was already making them. The practice kicked into high gear in the 1950s, especially at Universal-International, a studio hitherto known primarily for its B-movies, ground out like sausages. That began to change when agent Lew Wasserman negotiated a contract on behalf of actor James Stewart for Winchester '73 and Harvey in which Stewart, in lieu of his $200,000/picture fee, was instead paid 50% of the profits. The Anthony Mann Western especially was a huge hit, Stewart eventually earning three times his usual asking price. Other stars soon followed suit.

Man Without a Star (1955) came together under similar circumstances. Star Kirk Douglas, too big a name for Universal under normal circumstances, likewise agreed to make the film for a percentage, and reportedly earned upwards of a million bucks. That same year he established his own production company, Bryna, that allowed him to move away from standard studio fare like this and toward more ambitious, personal projects, including Paths of Glory (1957), Spartacus (1960), and Lonely Are the Brave (1962) among them.

Universal, meanwhile, packed Man Without a Star with contract talent like Jeanne Crain, Mara Corday, and even make-up designer Milicent Patrick, one of the principal designers of Universal's The Creature from the Black Lagoon, seen here as a dancehall girl, an uncredited bit player. Typical of the period, many of those who did the actual work on the film received no credit, including contract players Clint Eastwood and David Janssen, who dubbed some of the voices. No one is credited for its musical score, though the IMDb notes Hans Salter and Herman Stein worked on the film.

Directed by King Vidor from an original screenplay by Borden Chase and D.D. Beauchamp, Man Without a Star is a fairly ordinary but slickly-made Western. The story opens with ramblin' cowboy Dempsey Rae (Douglas) riding the rails through Wyoming. He meets wide-eyed country bumpkin Jeff Jimson (William Campbell), complete with tattered straw hat, and later the two witness the stabbing murder of a ruthless conductor by another bum (an uncredited Jack Elam). When Jeff is accused of the deed and Dempsey saves his neck, the two become inseparable in a mentor-student kind of relationship.

They try settling down in a cattle town where they're offered jobs as cowhands by ranch foreman Strap Davis (Jay C. Flippen), a huge spread of 10,000 cattle. Adjoining ranchers, with less than that among them, are worried that the open range is becoming unsustainable. The owner of the big ranch, ruthless capitalist Reed Bowman (Jeanne Crain), arrives from back east with an announcement that another 5,000 head of cattle are en route, led by cattle driver Steve Miles (Richard Boone), an old rival of Dempsey's. News of even more cattle grazing the dwindling natural resources distresses Strap, but Dempsey, lusting after fiery redhead Reed, goes along with her plans, even firing Strap and promoting Dempsey to foreman. As far as she's concerned, so what if the cattle turn the prairie into a desert in two or three years? She'll just move on to something else.

What stands out most about Man Without a Star is Kirk Douglas's performance, which is unpardonably hammy. The year before he'd played Ned Land in Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in a similarly lustful manner that was, arguably, the weakest component of that one-of-a-kind period adventure film. In scenes where Dempsey expresses his aversion to barbed wire, revealing scars all over his chest, or reacting with amazement at indoor plumbing, Douglas takes on the gestures of a Tex Avery cartoon character. (Kirk's scar-ridden chest practically explodes out of his shirt.) He's even broader here than he was in Disney's film, more like comic Frank Gorshin's famous impression of the actor. William Campbell, who was very good starring as an embittered career criminal in the nearly simultaneous release of Cell 2455, Death Row, a good Columbia programmer, seems to have encouraged by Douglas to ham it up as well, though he's subtle by comparison.

However, Man Without a Star is fairly good for what it is, thanks largely to Universal's well-oiled machine. It's always great to see talent like voluptuous Mara Corday in a part almost identical to role in Foxfire, released later that year. Western favorites like Boone, Flippen, Sheb Wooley, and Roy Barcroft are present, and Frankie Laine sings the title song. Also present are familiar faces like George Wallace, Paul Birch, Malcolm Atterbury, Myron Healey, and others. Studio craftsmen like editor Virgil Vogel and cinematographer Russell Metty add to the look of the film, Universal's house style.

Video & Audio

  Originally printed (but not shot in) Technicolor, Man Without a Star has color alignment issues here and there, but the 2.00:1 widescreen transfer is mostly good. The DTS-HD 2.0 (mono) Master Audio is fine, and optional English subtitles are provided. Region "A" encoded.

Extra Features

An audio commentary track by Toby Roan is included.

Parting Thoughts

Unexceptional but crowd-pleasing, Man Without a Star is Recommended.






Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian currently restoring a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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