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It's not profound or brilliant, but this film stays with me because of the simple accumulation of small, well-crafted, well-written scenes. All four principal characters are rootless and searching, but in different ways and for different reasons. It adds up to a sometimes amusing, sometimes melancholy, but always quite engaging snapshot of four individuals in Depression-era America.
The foursome: Glenn Ford at age 23 is perfect as a determined but comically naive city boy who buys 20 acres of Arizona land-- a piggery in a poke-- and heads West to become a rancher. Richard Conte, long before his face turned to wood , is a born drifter who only begins to imagine what staying put would be like when he's forced to consider it. The third, Jean Rogers as an illegal alien fleeing the Spanish Civil War, is searching for an uncle somewhere in California ("How big is California?"). The fourth, Raymond Walburn as a waggish scholar and gentleman, is a professional vagabond with a checkered vest, a checkered past, and a fondness for saloons. Their quartet crosses the country by rail and after a host of encounters, adventures, and mishaps, the conclusion is satisfyingly equivocal: two of them have a happy (well, hopeful) ending, one a desperately unhappy ending, and one settles for comfort with compromise.
Regrettably, the depth of character and plot in Dalton Trumbo's screenplay is somewhat undermined by the usual telescoping-- contrived coincidences, lucky and unlucky accidents to swiftly advance the story. But this is one of the forgotten Depression-era films-- like "Man's Castle"-- that leaves a quietly lasting impression because it touches the whole spectrum of our existence, from barbed-wire to heaven.
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