Robert Pippin at nonsite:
What we have instead is typical of Ray’s much more psychologically than politically complex films; that is, we have a great investiture of importance in love and being loved as the central human problem,42 or, we should probably say, we have what has become the central and most difficult human problem, since the Western is now noticeably of historical rather than thematic significance. This is so even though Ray was certainly aware, as few directors ever were or are, of the nearly certain impossibility of such redemption. And yet this does not mean that the film should be characterized as another of the more “psychological” Westerns, such as those by Anthony Mann or Budd Boetticher. It is fair to say that those Westerns explore more self-consciously the psychological costs of the frontier-town transition or the legal-extra-legal violence problem, than the “objective” problem itself. But the Western framework itself is secure, just given a different, more-psychological-than-epic inflection. A question like, “What really is the difference between a sheriff and a bounty hunter, if any?” might be explored by asking “What does it mean for this individual (the Jimmy Stewart character in Mann’s Westerns) to face that challenge?” But it is still the classical question at issue. We are still within the generic language and concerns of the Western.
There is one more element that connects the love story melodrama with the “Western” plot. Put simply, both raise the question of the possibility of “new beginnings,” sort of escape from, or reconciliation with, the past.