Canyon Passage (1946)

25 09 2008

Now this, on the other hand, was really fantastic. I expect a film this great out of Tourneur at this point, but I would never expect one of his films to be great in the same manner as this one is. For one, it has beautiful, albeit very early, technicolor compositions. Undoubtedly a gimmick on paper, but plays in so well with the atmosphere. The character dynamics are some of the most refreshing I’ve seen in a western in a long time. Ultimately, the film doesn’t quite live up to the amount of emotional depth implied at the very start, but it definitely comes close and it’s an entertaining ride along the way.

Dana Andrews plays an experienced drifter, Logan Stuart, who gets caught up in a love triangle with his best friend and said friend’s wife-to-be. This friend is George Camarose, a long-time gambler, who has (in contrast to Logan) stayed in Oregon for a long time. Stuart is transporting George’s long time lover, Lucy Overmine to Oregon for something of a reunion. Contrary to so many of the westerns I’ve seen as of late, the main romantic interest here does not lie between a passive man and resistant women, but rather between two people who already know each other to begin with. In addition, the women here is neither naive or entirely committed to her original romantic interest. From the very beginning, there is a sense that Lucy’s interest in George is beginning to die down.

It is at this point that her interest in Logan is on the rise, but any plans the two have for running off together are put on hold. We are introduced to Logan’s long-time friend Ben Dance, played by Andy Devine in one of his more likable performances. Caroline Marsh, another romantic interest of Logan’s, lives in the Dance household. Needless to say, things are pretty complicated at this point, but what is so impressive about the film is that these complications all come from the characters’ relationships rather than any overarching plot. It is only towards the end that the half-assed story involving angry Indians attacking villages come to the surface.

Instead, there’s plenty of great relationship problems and characters who seem to serve no purpose. The latter element may seem like an insult, but the addition of several “minor” characters adds to the film’s very free and loose feeling, as well as that perfect Americana sensibility that Tourneur seems to comprehend better than anyone else. A perfect example is Ward Bond’s character, who can, by default, be labeled as a villian. Of course, it probably helps that Bond himself is one of the most fascinating actors of all time, but his limited screen time seems to imply that Tourneur perfectly mapped out this world from the inside out.

The technicolor cinematography is another great addition, even if it takes some time to get use to it. Tourneur is definitely not the sort of director I would think of as being particularly successful in color, if only due to the defiance of the black-and-white in Out of the Past. Here, though, there is a similar beauty that is perfectly translated into the realm of technicolor. This is much more than just a colorized version of Tourneur’s usual aesthetic. There’s some touches (such as the seemingly random glows of red) that don’t work well with the inherent saturation of early technicolor stock, but even then I feel like condoning Tourneur just for trying something different.

The Texas Rangers (1936)

25 09 2008

A decent, little film right here, but considering the potential implied by being a western directed by the great King Vidor, it is ridiculously disappointing. None of the performances are all great, the visuals are impressive but nothing Vidor hasn’t topped already, and the story is pretty conventional. Perhaps this isn’t all that surprising since it came before John Ford basically revived the dying genre with Stagecoach but that can’t really excuse one of Vidor’s least exciting efforts. Maybe he’s just not all that great with westerns, because this and Duel in the Sun are by far my least favorite films of his. Both seem sort of like a wasted opportunity.

While Vidor’s best films like The Champ and The Wedding Night give off an unparalleled (at least by the standards of the 1930s) type of naturalism, this film is almost relentlessly fake. Had I seen this film first, I certainly wouldn’t have labeled Vidor as Hiroshi Shimizu’s American counterpart. It really is such a shame, too, that most of the film was shot on a bluescreen as Vidor’s visual elegance matched with some natural landscapes could yield something truly amazing. In that case, it is almost a bit unfair to call the film a disappointment. I was expecting it to pretty much blow my mind, but I think Vidor would even admit that he made this film only at the request of the studio. There’s definitely no way he put as much effort in here as he did in some of his better films.

The performances aren’t as crushing of a blow as the absence of Vidor’s usual poetic touches are, but they’re still not very good. In all honesty, it’s only Fred McMurray’s performances that can really critically sway someone from one side to another, but he does nothing really to help. I suppose it can be argued that his wooden and hammy performance has an almost subversive sort of passiveness to it,  but he’s no Randolph Scott, Henry Fonda, or Robert Mitchum. Had any of those performers been in that role, they probably would have saved the film. As it is, this is only a curiosity in Vidor’s filmography.