The Naked Spur, the most elemental Mann western and my favorite of all his pictures, has the most breathtaking scenery, including snowcapped mountains, rock formations, and green forest clearings in the Colorado Rockies near Durango. Yet insofar as westerns are intrinsically mythological, I suppose one could argue that this one might as well be taking place inside Mann’s head.
The force of the restraint of The Naked Spur's palette is in keeping with Mann's honed and pure vision of the West as a space in which moral positions are battled through psychology, landscape and violence. James Stewart's red plaid jacket is his defining costuming in the film, yet its scuffed dustiness sells the realism of his trail-worn experience better than the artifice extravagant colors might bring.
Brief and compact movements are prevalent, the tighter the image the better: When the characters take refuge inside a cave, the camera pans from the grinning prisoner to a rock formation before tilting up to reveal a jagged ceiling precariously held in place... Peckinpah all but remakes it in The Deadly Companions, the astonishing river climax is a virtual instruction manual for Boorman’s Deliverance.