Ben Johnson plays Sam the Lion who owns the local billiards, diner, and picture show. Same the Lion is a very particular character in the town because he is one of the few people who believes in doing the right thing in his own regard as well as in regard to helping others. Sam also although certainly does not have a perfect life he clearly does not suffer from the psychological troubles which trouble most of the rest of the residents of the town.
Sam the Lion actually has a limited amount of screen time but Johnson makes the most of every moment he has on screen. In short scenes Johnson effortlessly conveys the noble nature of Sam the Lion. There is always a certain quietness in his performance, and within every solemn gaze Johnson always manages to bring to life the wisdom, and intelligence of Sam. It is difficult to establish this sort of almost casual wisdom without seeming unrealistic, but Johnson manages it flawlessly.
Johnson with his little he has manages to create a whole history in the character of Sam. In his somewhat tired world worn face their is an honest experience conveyed by Johnson. He is of course especially stand out in his scene where reminisces about old times. Johnson is brilliant in his ability to convey the truly fond memories Sam has of his particular past. Johnson is especially strong is that it is not that he shows really a regret, Sam really is above a feeling like that, but instead he shows a genuine nostalgic feeling for that time in his life.
Johnson succeeds well with Sam the Lion, creating a unique presence in every one of his scenes that almost a mysterious quality to him in the way he has his certain warmness and nobility that almost no one else has in the town. It most certainly is a short role in the end, but Johnson's performance has a lasting impact on the film. When he exits the film you feel a genuine loss of warmth, hope and nobility that Johnson so effortlessly conveyed in the role.