Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Naked Spur (1953)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Naked Spur (1953)

In Anthony Mann's beautifully-filmed, stylistic, and moralistic 'adult' western - the third of James Stewart's five western collaborations with director Mann (also Winchester ’73 (1950), Bend of the River (1952), The Far Country (1954) and The Man From Laramie (1955)) - the Technicolored, vengeful bounty-hunter tale had only five acting-speaking roles:

  • in 1868, the vengeful, tormented and embittered bounty hunter Howard Kemp (James Stewart) was in pursuit of Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan), a cunning, wanted murderer in the Colorado Rockies, for the $5,000 reward money; Kemp's intent was to bring him back to Abilene, Kansas on his own for the advertised bounty; Vandergroat had murdered a marshal in Abilene, Kansas
  • in Kemp's past, before leaving to serve in the Civil War, he had signed over his cattle ranch to his faithless fiancee-sweetheart (referred to as "Mary"), but then when he returned, he learned she had sold his land and run off with another man; Kemp's intention was to use the bounty reward to repurchase the land and settle down there
  • during the film, there was intriguing interplay between the principals (including Kemp), all vying for the same bounty money, including Kemp's two untrustworthy sidekicks (Jesse and Roy); when they learned that Kemp was a bounty hunter, they demanded to split the reward three ways with him:
    • Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell), a grizzled old prospector from Kansas, actually a horse-trading thief
    • Lt. Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker) - a dishonorably discharged, amoral, playboyish and disreputable Union Army officer
      [Note: it was revealed later that Anderson was being pursued by a Blackfoot Indian war party for defiling one of the chief's daughters.]

Bounty Hunter Howard Kemp (James Stewart)

(l to r): Jesse Tate, Vandergroat, Lina, and Lt. Roy Anderson

Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell)

Lt. Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker)
  • Kemp captured Vandergroat' who had a 'traveling companion' with him - blonde, short-haired, tomboyish Lina Patch (Janet Leigh)
    [Note: Vandergroat was serving as Lina's guardian - she was the daughter of one of Ben's deceased friends, Frank Patch, who was killed while robbing the bank in Abilene.]
  • a love triangle developed between Kemp, Vandergroat, and Lina
  • scoundrel Vandergroat used persuasive tactics of psychological warfare (greed, discord, suspicion, mistrust, and jealousy) to create conflict among his three captors, including two failed escape attempts: (1) Lina distracted Kemp so that Vandergroat could escape one night from the back of a cave, and (2) Vandergroat also unbuckled Kemp's saddle-strap so that he might topple the bounty-hunter off a steep ridge
  • a violent Blackfoot native Indian attack from twelve riders ended up in a massacre (only Kemp was wounded in the leg)
  • one tactic that Vandergroat used successfully was to convince Jesse to desert the group at night to visit a nearby goldmine
  • the exciting climax came at a roaring and raging riverside after Vandergroat had ruthlessly killed Jesse; Vandergroat positioned himself high up on a rock face, poised as a sniper with a rifle to also ambush Kemp and Anderson; as he fired at Kemp, Lina pushed Vandergroat's rifle up, preventing him from firing accurately, but she was knocked out
  • Kemp climbed the face of the rocky cliff behind Vandergroat and flung his "naked spur" (used to scale the cliff-face as a axe/piton) into his lower cheek or neck - after which he reeled around and Anderson shot him from a distance and finished him off; Vandergroat's corpse fell into the roaring river below; Anderson was able to string a line across the rough water so he could retrieve the body and claim the reward; however, while swimming in the rapidly-flowing river, Roy Anderson was lethally struck by a gigantic log stump, drowned and was carried downstream
  • Kemp hauled Vandergroat's body back to the shore with a lasso rope, and became insanely single-minded and heartless - determined to claim the reward all for himself as he strapped the corpse on his horse: "I'm takin' him back. This is what I came after and now I've got him. No partners, like I started. He's gonna pay for my land...They're dead! Finished!...The money - That's all I care about. That's all I've ever cared about"; Lina insistently pleaded for him to leave the ordeal behind - she cautioned against buying his farm back with blood money
  • as they argued, Lina made a startling request - to ride with him and marry him: "All right, if that's the way you want it, I'll ride with you. I'll ride with you all the way....I'll marry you. I'll go with you. I'll even live on that land with you. What else do you want from me?"

Gripping Lina's Arms
Kemp: "Why? Tell me why?"
  • Kemp didn't know how to respond to her forward proposition, and continued to insist on collecting the bounty: "Why? Tell me why. I'm takin' him back, I swear it. I'm gonna sell him for money"; he gripped Lina's arms - and after turning around, he paused and then decided - in an abrupt turn-about during a complete breakdown - to give up his potential blood-money bounty; her love had absolved him of his deep and obsessive hatred; he removed Vandergroat's body from his saddle and began to dig a burial plot in the ground as he asked: "You still want to try California?"; she answered: "If you want" - and he consented: "That's it, then"
  • after she brewed up some coffee, they would soon be riding off together to start a new life in California
    [Note: Earlier in the film, Lina had told Kemp about her wishes to move to California - and the reasons why: "Someplace new. Nobody caring who you are or where you come from. A place you could belong to. A house. Maybe even neighbors"

The Capture of Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) with 'Traveling Companion' Lina Patch (Janet Leigh)

Vandergroat - Wanted Criminal For Murder - With a $5,000 Bounty Reward

Kemp Hauling In Vandergroat's Body: "I'm takin' him back!"

Lina's Protesting Response: "Ben's not dead if you take him back! He'll never be dead for you!"

Kemp Throwing Vandergroat's Corpse Onto His Horse's Saddle

Kemp's Abrupt Turn-About Decision: To Bury Vandergroat's Body and Move to California with Lina


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z