Man of the West is a Gary Cooper film. But it also includes Julie London and Lee J. Cobb. As Link Jones (Gary Cooper), this character has long since turned over a new leaf, having gone from bad to good. He intends to keep it that way as he takes a train from Crosscut to Fort Worth, entrusted with money raised by a small town, earmarked for a schoolteacher. On board, Link, Billie (Julie London), and Beasley (Arthur O'Connell) are stranded after an aborted hold-up. They make their way straight into the remote hideout of Dock Tobin, a fabled outlaw, with whom Link used to ride. There is no one better than Cobb, except maybe Walter Brennan, when it comes to being the father figure of a clan of outlaws with nary a single redeeming value.
The failed train robbery is an embarrassment. There had only been a single guard. So Dock Tobin plans to restore his self-esteem by robbing the Lassoo Bank, as in the old days, when he and the boys once netted $11,000, considered "big". Link has no choice but to play along, but he has permanently graduated from the lawless life style. He has trouble trying to protect Billie from the cruel, jaded impulses of the restless crew, starved for entertainment. But Link is a man of the west, as the title suggests, and will find a way to prevail against Dock Tobin, who is also a man of the west, only without any discernible sense of right and wrong.
One wonders about the Western Frontier under these circumstances of hardship and firearms. Shipments by coach or train are almost always threatened, and the simple wish to build a schoolhouse and hire a teacher is so easily undermined. Cooper's laconic delivery and unswayable anchorage in goodness rather than badness more than makes up for the fact that he is not as young or virile as some of his antagonists. And there are much more of them than him, completely alone without second-hand support. Man of the West is not a spiritual essay, and yet it conveys the sense that over time, good, if persistent, wins out over evil. In reality, the old West had its share of thieves and bands of outlaws, but they were eventually driven out of sight. And that is exactly what Link will do to Dock, whose mind is stuck in an era that time alone has swept completely aside.
It might be worthwhile checking out The Border Jumpers, by Will C. Brown, the western novel that was adapted to the screen. Maybe Dock Tobin is developed more thoroughly, possibly as a somewhat tragic if roughhewn character. Movies make use of so much shorthand, not having the luxury of time to expand on descriptions. This condition is somewhat ameliorated by the star system and typecasting, so that anyone played by Gary Cooper and/or Lee J. Cobb already has a kind of personality that a literary author might take pains to establish. The message boards at IMDB are mixed, but most western fans are apt to judge the film favorably.