A bland, generic title disguises a sublime little Western which,
despite being one of a string of prestige genre pictures shot in color
around the same time – like DUEL IN THE SUN (1946) and California
(1946; included in Volume 2 of Universal’s “Classic Western Round-Up”
series) – only in recent years did its reputation soar considerably
through the championing of renowned admirers like Martin Scorsese and
Jonathan Rosenbaum. It is also important in that it marked Jacques
Tourneur’s first film in color and for being the first of several
Westerns he would go on to helm, the most distinguished of which was
the black-and-white STARS IN MY CROWN (1950) with Joel McCrea.
All the familiar Western ingredients are present (love triangles, crooked bankers, bar-room brawls, Indian attacks, impromptu court hearings turning into lynch mobs) but which are literally rendered fresh once more by impeccable handling and production values – the beautiful color photography (courtesy of color lighting expert, Edward Cronjager), skillful music accompaniment (composer Frank Skinner) and a splendid cast who rise up to the occasion of breathing life into their three dimensional characters: Dana Andrews’ restless hero, Brian Donlevy’s likable rogue, Susan Hayward’s feisty heroine, Ward Bond’s mean town-bully, Hoagy Carmichael’s balladeer-cum-cynical observer, etc. Besides providing notable roles also for Lloyd Bridges (as a hot-headed miner), Stanley Ridges (as Hayward’s lawyer father), Onslow Stevens (as a tubercular conman) and Rose Hobart (as Ridges’ enigmatic, exotic wife), screenwriter Ernest Pascal – working from material originally published by noted Western writer Ernest Haycox – adds the nice touch of introducing English émigrés (Patricia Roc and Halliwell Hobbes) into this community, which further aids the film in standing out from the crowd of similar fare.
CANYON PASSAGE is undoubtedly one of the most vivid portrayals of pioneer life in the Old West ever brought to the screen, certainly on a par with John Ford’s DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK (1939) but arguably working on a greater level of sophistication: for one thing, the relationships between the characters are more complex in nature than they at first appear (practically every major character is engaged to marry someone but is truly in love with somebody else) and the fact that Tourneur boldly chooses to have some of the film’s major events take place off-screen – Donlevy’s killing of the miner whose money he has been pilfering (which leads to the trial in the bar), Ward Bond’s slaying of the Indian girl (which leads to the climactic Indian attack), Andy Devine’s death at the hands of the Indians, Donlevy’s own ‘execution’ by the villagers, etc. – also hints that we are watching is indeed something quite special.
Director Jacques Tourneur and leading man Dana Andrews went on to collaborate on two more films a decade later – the superlative occult chiller, NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957; which is apparently getting a fully-loaded release on R2 DVD later on this year) and the obscure Cold War thriller, THE FEARMAKERS (1958). One final note about CANYON PASSAGE: multi-talented Hoagy Carmichael composed and sang four songs for the film – one of which, “Ole Buttermilk Sky”, became a hit tune and was, sadly, also the film’s sole Academy Award nomination!
Action / Drama / Romance / Western
Action / Drama / Romance / Western
In 1856, backwoods businessman Logan Stuart escorts Lucy Overmire, his friend's fiancée, back home to remote Jacksonville, Oregon; in the course of the hard journey, Lucy is attracted to Logan, whose heart seems to belong to another. Once arrived in Jacksonville, a welter of subplots involve villains, fair ladies, romantic triangles, gambling fever, murder, a cabin-raising, and vigilantism...culminating with an Indian uprising that threatens all the settlers. No canyon in sight.
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May 17, 2015 at 06:59 AM