Man Without a Star

Man Without A Star cover

Train hopping across the states from Kansas City to Wyoming, Demspey Rae seeks the great beyond, a frontier free of rules and the hated barbed wire faces he has left behind; falling into the company of “Texas Kid” Jim Jimson and saving his life when he is falsely accused of murdering a brakeman, they find employment on a ranch where 10,000 head of cattle feed freely on the surrounding plains.

The arrival of the owner Reed Bowman brings surprises and changes; Rae did not realise he was working for a woman, and an ambitious one at that, nor that he would be swiftly promoted to running the ranch or that she would plan to bring in another 5,000 cattle, unsupportable unless they begin to encroach upon the lands of the neighbouring operations, among them the Cassidy family with whom he and Jimson have become friends.

Man Without A Star; the train pulls into town and the sheriff waits...

A battle of wills over territory and principles, The Viking’s Kirk Douglas is the Man Without a Star, a simple cowboy and gunfighter rather than an appointed officer of the law, directionless even as he counsels Jimson (Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte‘s William Campbell) to follow a star to a find his destination in life, instead saying “I’m just like the cattle, drifting north with the grass,” while The Robe‘s Richard Boone is the ruthless Steve Miles whom Crain hires to replace Dempsey when his beliefs come into conflict with her directives.

Directed by Duel in the Sun’s King Vidor, Man Without a Star was released in 1955 by which time Douglas already a star for Champion and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and here it feels as though he is essentially playing himself, short-tempered but possessed of a personal code, carousing and fighting and flashing his pistol when not playing his banjo, the other characters along for the ride in his vehicle, even State Fair‘s Jeanne Crain as Bowman, ostensibly his boss but with the script by Borden Chase and D D Beauchamp portraying her as inconsistent and impulsive rather than a capable businesswoman.

Man Without A Star; William Campbell is Jeff Jimson.

Very loosely based on the novel of the same name by Dee Linford, Man Without a Star is a Western of tired conventions rather than inspiration, horses and cows, beef and beans and bourbon, fistfights and gunfights, with the only surprise that Bowman owns an indoor bathtub; Jimson’s beau Tess (Myrna Hansen, Miss USA of 1953) serving only as window-dressing, in her brief appearances saloon owner Idonee (Claire Trevor, an Oscar winner for Key Largo) is the most interesting character.

Making its UK Blu-ray debut as part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema range, Man Without a Star is supported by a commentary from Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman and an interview with film scholar Neil Sinyard who considers it an “eccentric Western” and places the film in the context of that genre and within the prolific careers of both Vidor and Douglas, referencing many works which sound more interesting than the feature itself.

Man Without a Star will be available from Eureka from Monday 15th August

Man Without A Star; Kirk Douglas is Dempsey Rae.