Mann's last western, and his most disturbing foray into the genre. Working here with Cooper instead of Jimmy Stewart, Mann again tells a tale of Shakespearean proportions in which complicated men struggle against their own worst instincts. The film opens as Link (Cooper), a seemingly
guileless Texas bumpkin, leaves his wife and children and boards a train to hire a schoolteacher from Fort Worth. Enlisted by con man Sam Beasley (O'Connell) to scam Link, saloon singer Billie Ellis (London) almost succeeds when the psychotic Tobin gang holds up the train. Stranded, Link leads
Billie and Beasley to the Tobins's nearby cabin, where it is revealed that he is a former gang member and nephew of its leader (Cobb). While Uncle Dock is happy to see his former right-hand man, his cousins are less than thrilled by his presence but more than thrilled by Billie's. Plans to rob a
bank in a former boomtown turned ghost town spearhead family rivalries and the ugly nature of Link's past.
As in Mann's other westerns, there is an air of epic tragedy to MAN OF THE WEST. Link's accidental reentry into the gang causes his base instincts to once again boil to the surface after years of conformity, but, better than the rest of the gang, he realizes that a way of life is passing. In some
ways it is Dock rather than Link who plays the title character. Mann's heroes and villains do not wear white and black hats to separate good from evil; they are real people who suffer from anxiety, guilt, hatred, and doubt. Some succumb to lust, others to change, but a few achieve a transcendent
grace. Excellent acting all around (even if casting the decade-older Cooper as Cobb's nephew doesn't quite wash), with a gun battle between Cooper and Dehner and a different sort of encounter between Cooper and London as highlights.
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