The Caftan Woman Blogathon: Honoring Patricia Nolan-Hall

Like so many bloggers across the Internet, I was stunned and saddened to learn earlier this year of the passing of Patricia “Paddy” Nolan-Hall, author of the Caftan Woman blog. I never met Paddy in person, but she felt like a friend. She wrote for many years for my film noir newsletter, The Dark Pages, we corresponded occasionally via email and online, and she was incredibly supportive of my blog (as she was of so many others), commenting on nearly everything I wrote – even on my daily Noirvember posts! In celebration of this caring, encouraging, and much-loved writer, I am proud to participate in today’s special blogathon honoring Paddy.

Paddy championed classic films from a variety of genres and eras, including film noir and westerns. I thought it was fitting, then, to select Man of the West (1958) as my blogathon entry – it’s certainly a western, but it also has an undeniable noirish feeling that keeps you on edge throughout. And I think it’s one that Paddy would have loved.

Link, Billie, and Sam meet cute. Or something like that.

Directed by noir veteran Anthony Mann, Man of the West stars Gary Cooper as Link Jones, in the “role that fits him like a gun fits a holster,” accordingly to the film’s enthusiastic tagline. As the film opens, deceptively cheery music accompanies Link’s arrival in Crosscut, Texas, where he purchases a train ticket to Fort Worth; there, he hopes to find a schoolteacher for the settlement where he lives and he’s carrying a cache of money for this purpose. Also boarding the train are Billie Ellis (Julie London), a saloon singer, and Sam Beasley (Arthur O’Connell), a gambler who engages Link in a brief conversation on the train platform. Before the train departs, Link is approached by the local marshal, who asks his name (Link gives an alias), where he’s from (he reveals the town only when pressed), and whether he knows a man named Dock Tobin (he says that he does not). The sheriff also warns Link about the company he keeps, referring to the man on the platform.

Link and Uncle Dock. Uncle Dock is nuts, by the way.

After some light moments on the train involving Link’s struggles to fit his lanky legs in a seat, and his annoyance with Sam Beasley’s incessant chatter, the film takes a shadowy turn. While stopped to load up on wood for the engine, the train is attacked by a quartet of outlaws, and when the engineer pulls off to escape the marauders, Link, Billie, and Sam (with a sprained ankle) are left behind, sans luggage, sans money. After setting out on foot, they eventually stumble upon Link’s boyhood home and find the would-be train robbers holed up there – along with the notorious bandit Dock Tobin (Lee J. Cobb), a crude, cold-blooded, and crazy coot who just happens to be Link’s uncle. We learn that Link used to be Dock’s partner in his criminal exploits, but he abandoned his uncle years before and is now reformed. (“We were big. Don’t you remember?” Dock reminisces. “You were my property. What did you go off and leave me for?”) Dock aims for Link to rejoin his crooked crew and help knock over a bank in a town known as Lassoo  (“There’s more money in that Lassoo bank than any of you ignorant dogs ever could count!”), and Link allows his uncle to think that he has returned to the fold.

Steve McGarrett, we hardly knew ye!!

The remainder of the film give us one of the most fascinating characters I’ve yet to come across in a western, along with one of the most unique male-female relationships. Gary Cooper’s Link Jones is soft-spoken, thoughtful, and a little reticent, but shrewd and able to think fast on his feet. As the plot unfolds, we find out more about Link’s previous life, when he was trained by his uncle to kill and steal, as well as how he underwent his metamorphosis. “There’s a point where you either grow up and become a human being, or you rot, like that bunch,” he tells Billie. “So I busted away. I found something better. I made myself a home.” Link now has a wife and two young children, but as he becomes more exposed to the ruthlessness of his uncle and the men in his gang, Link struggles with the re-emergence of the man he used to be: “You know what I feel inside of me? I feel like killing,” he admits. “Like a sickness come back. I want to kill every last one of those Tobins, and that makes me just like they are. What I busted my back all of those years not to be.” (Incidentally, one of the members of Dock’s gang is played by Jack Lord, who you may know best from his role as Lt. Steve McGarrett on the original Hawaii Five-O television show. You’ll barely recognize him here – not only does he look considerably younger, but his character is a thousand times nastier.)

“I never met a man like you before.”

As for Billie, she’s grown accustomed to her hardscrabble existence, drifting from one saloon gig to the next, with no family to call her own and no love in her life. The respect she’s afforded by Link is a new experience for her, from his draping his coat around her shoulders for warmth, to his efforts to keep his uncle’s gang from having their way with her. “I never met a man like you before,” she says. “The men I meet all think they have a right to put their hands on me. Like it comes with the introduction.” Link shares his thoughts with Billie, his hopes, his fears, and she falls in love with him. But while she makes it clear that she is offering herself to Link – even knowing about his family at home – Link doesn’t accept her wordless proposition. There’s even a scene where Billie lays her head against his hand and Link is compelled to reach out to stroke her hair, but he stops himself. They both know that Link’s sense of honor cannot permit it. “You know, it’s funny, Link. The last two days, you’ve lost everything you ever lived for. And I’ve found something I wanted all my life,” Billie tells him. “But what hurts is I can’t keep what I found, can I?” Still, she can’t deny that her life is richer for having known him.

This fight is something else, y’all.

The film offers near non-stop action in the second half, as we learn the fate of Sam Beasley; find out what happens with Dock’s plan to rob the bank at Lassoo; meet another member of the Tobin family, Link’s cousin, Claude (John Dehner); and witness one of the most memorable fistfights I’ve ever seen (and, since every western I’ve ever watched has at least one fight, that’s saying something!). And the noirish end may not be what you’re expecting, but you’ll be satisfied with the rightness of it.

Man of the West can be found on YouTube – if you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out. Even if you’re not a fan of westerns, I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that you’re going to like this one. And if you’re already familiar with it, treat yourself to a rewatch. You only owe it to yourself.

And raise a glass to Paddy while you’re at it.

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This post is part of the Caftan Woman Blogathon – click here to read the other great contributions honoring our friend and fellow blogger, Patricia “Paddy” Nolan-Hall. Enjoy!

~ by shadowsandsatin on May 6, 2022.

26 Responses to “The Caftan Woman Blogathon: Honoring Patricia Nolan-Hall”

  1. Raise a glass to Paddy, indeed. Smashing post, and one that Paddy would have enjoyed. Thank you for participating in this blogathon in her honor, and for sharing such warm and lovely thoughts. I know she will be missed.

  2. Karen, this is beautiful. I think the fact that we all mentioned different genres when referring to Paddy (Musicals & Westerns for me) shows the depth of her knowledge and love of film. She was familiar with everything.

    Also, I loved this commentary on a film I’e never seen. I am adding Man of the West to my must-see list.

    Aurora

    • Thank you so much, Aurora. I agree that our mentioning different genres is a reflection of Paddy’s vast love — and it’s a testament that she made us all feel that she loved most what we loved most. (If that makes any sense.) I hope you’ll get to see Man of the West — and I’ll hope you’ll let me know what you think if you do!

  3. I’ll bet Paddy would love this post. And she would be very happy to know that you are sending me over to YouTube to watch this film. I am never drawn to westerns and then I always find I like them. Paddy was such an kind and guiding light of an inspiration. We are all trying to find the words, but there are no words.

  4. I know she was big on Anthony Mann. (I wrote about T-MEN for your 1947 Blogathon.) I haven’t seen many of his westerns. This one sounds worth watching.

    • It definitely is — like most of Anthony Mann’s movies, it’s a winner! If you check it out, I’ll hope you’ll come back and let me know what you thought.

  5. Great selection Karen. And as would be the case with so many of Paddy’s review, it’s a film I haven’t seen. It sounds like a good one, and with Anthony Mann directing with Gary Cooper it has to be a winner. Thanks for your review.

  6. I watched this tonight based on your recommendation. I’m a huge Gary Cooper fan, but I haven’t seen several of his later movies including this one. I like the perspective you gave in comparing it to a noir – I don’t think I’d have noticed that, but you are correct as it feels more like a noir than a western. Thanks for the recommendation! I wish I had known Paddy before she passed!
    Donna, the Philly gal in the Chicago film club

    • Hi, Donna — I immediately recognized your name! I discovered westerns since the pandemic, and while I’ve enjoyed most of them, so many of them tend to blend together. But Man of the West (and several others with a noirish tone) are unforgettable. I’m so glad that you watched it!

  7. Nice! This looks really good. Paddy did love her musicals. 🙂

  8. I’ll be journeying to YouTube soon to watch this one for the first time. Sounds like a western I just might “take to.” The fact that it’s noirish is a huge selling point. And I’ll absolutely raise a glass to Paddy when I see it. And to you, to Karen, for the recommendation and for being part of our celebration of Paddy. Perfect choice, and you’re right, she would love it.

    • I hope you’ll like it, Patty! I discovered westerns since the pandemic, and I love them. Most of them were recommended to me, and there’s really some good ones out there — especially those with a noirish tinge. Thank you again for this blogathon. It was really special.

  9. Karen, I never thought I’d be reading about a Western on your site, but you’ve sold me on this one. Also, I loved your tribute to Paddy. It’s easy to see why she admired your blog so much.

  10. Fantastic tribute, Karen. Well done.

  11. Oh, Man of the West is such a fitting movie to pay tribute to Paddy with! She loved noir and she loved Westerns and it is both. No surprise that it was directed by Anthony Mann, who excelled in both genres. One of the great things about Paddy beyond being such a warm, sunny, positive, and supportive person was she embraced a wide variety of genres, and she knew so much about all of them too!

    • Thank you! I wanted to pay homage to Paddy’s love for noir and westerns, and this one was the first that came to mind. I like to think that she enjoyed it like I do.

  12. This film sounds terrific and Gary Cooper is a fave. Thank you for this recommendation and for your lovely tribute to Paddy.

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