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Tourneur's first Western is yet another of the director's unjustly
misunderstood works. What at first appears to be vague or meandering tale is
in fact an infinitely personal work with a subtle direction. Of all Tourneur
pictures I have seen, "Canyon Passage" is the most endlessly fascinating.
Here is a movie rich with pictorial beauty and simplicity, yet every time I
watch it, I discover new things. The meaning often shifts and turns,
revealing new depths, emotions, insights. You will probably not going to
notice its emotional richness if you have just seen it
When I first saw "Canyon Passage", I was a little puzzled by it, especially the relationship between Dana Andrews' Logan and Brian Donlevy's George, but successive viewings and Chris Fujiwara's book were extremely helpful. "Canyon Passage" is far from a typical or ordinary Western, even though it concerns with theme of the affirmation of the American Myth or the cohesion of community. Most of the events occur off screen, the dialogue alludes to previous events that took place before the movie starts, the Hoagy Carmichael songs are unforgettable and become more timeless with each viewing. The three separate songs lyricize the narrative much like the timeless unifying song in Tourneur's masterful "Stars in My Crown"(1950).
Please give it another chance. It helps a bit if you revisit it from time to time to appreciate its neverending beauty and subtlety.
Dana Andrews is a merchant/entrepreneur on the Oregon frontier during
its period of pioneer settlement in the 1840s. He's got two women
interested in him, Susan Hayward and Patricia Roc, a weak business
partner in Brian Donlevy who's addicted to gambling and a big and mean
man played by Ward Bond who wants to kill him. And of course there are
the ever present Indians around.
Canyon Passage is directed by French expatriate director Jacques Tourneur and I have to say Tourneur did a good job in immersing himself in American frontier culture. I don't think John Ford could have done better with the story, the cast, and the superb outdoor photography that puts those B studio westerns to shame.
Patricia Roc who was a big name in Great Britain made a couple of American films at this time. Until the boundary was finally fixed at the 49th parallel, British settlers would not have been uncommon in the Oregon territory so the casting is not as strange as one might normally think. Ms. Roc didn't make much of an impression on American audiences and she was back in Great Britain shortly thereafter. Not too many British players of the period could boast a western in their credits though.
Susan Hayward is strangely subdued in this film. She looks a bit out of place in this one. She's far better suited to an urban setting. Later on she did films like Untamed and Garden of Evil, but far more of her fiery personality was shown in those roles than in Canyon Passage.
Ward Bond is the villain here, a misanthropic loner of a man, brooding and strange. I guess you can best compare his role to that of Judd Fry in Oklahoma. Has the same kind of problems relating to people, especially those of the opposite sex, that Judd does. It's one of Bond's two or three best performances on screen.
The popularity of Canyon Passage was helped in large measure to the Hoagy Carmichael-Jack Brooks ballad Ole Buttermilk Sky which Hoagy also performed in the film. It was a big hit that year both for Hoagy himself and others who recorded it. Carmichael was an amazing triple talent in the entertainment field as composer, actor, and singer of his own and other's songs. His best known movie parts besides Canyon Passage would be in Young Man With a Horn and The Best Years of Our Lives.
Tourneur keeps the film moving at a steady pace and gets quite a lot crammed into the 90+ minutes of the film. Western fans who like their films slow and easy will take to this one.
Canyon Passage is directed by Jacques Tourneur and is adapted by Ernest
Pascal from the novel written by Ernest Haycox. It stars Dana Andrews,
Brian Donlevy, Ward Bond, Susan Hayward, Lloyd Bridges & Patricia Roc,
with Hoagy Carmichael also supporting and offering up ditties such as
the Oscar Nominated "Ole Buttermilk Sky". Music is by Frank Skinner and
cinematography by Edward Cronjager.
More famed for his moody black & white pieces, Canyon Passage finds Tourneur operating in glorious Technicolor on Western landscapes. The result of which is as gorgeous as it is thematically sizzling. The story follows Andrews' Logan Stuart, a former scout turned store & freight owner who has landed in Jacksonsville, Oregon. Also residing here is the girl he is courting, Caroline Marsh (Roc) and his friend George Camrose (Donlevy) who plans to marry Lucy Overmire (Hayward). However, there are problems afoot as George has a serious gambling problem, one that will send this tiny town into turmoil. Affairs of the heart also come under pressure, and to cap it all off, the Indians are on the warpath after the brutish Honey Bragg (Bond) kills an innocent Indian girl.
The first thing that is so striking about Canyon Passage is the town of Jacksonville itself, this is a vastly different Western town to the ones we are used to seeing. Built in a sloping canyon that helps to pump up the off kilter feeling that breathes within the picture, it's also green, very green, but in a most visually refreshing way. The greenery and red flowers give a sense of harmony, a sneaky way of diverting the viewer from the smouldering narrative, for Tourneur is delighting in not only painting a pretty picture that belies the trouble bubbling under the surface of this apparent place of prosperity, he's also revelling in using various camera shots to embody the unfolding story and the characterisations of the principals. This really is a film that begs to be revisited a number of times, because with each viewing comes something new to appraise, to pore over to see just why Tourneur did something particular. The host of characters are varied and have meaning, each given impetus by the uniformly strong cast, the latter of which is also a testament to the supreme direction from the Parisian maestro.
I honestly feel that if this was a John Ford film it would be far better known & appraised accordingly. Because up to now it's still something of an under seen and vastly under rated Western. This in spite of it garnering praise over the last decade or so from some big hitters in the directing and film critic circles. Cronjager's Technicolor photography is rich and piercing, where Tourneur and himself expertly utilise the Diamond Lake and Umpqua National Forest exteriors to expand mood of the story. Skinner's score is excellent, as is Carmichael's (wonderfully creepy) musical input, while the costuming is top dollar. Now widely available on DVD, there's hope that more people will seek it out. With its number of finely drawn sub-plots, and its wonderful visual delights and tricks, Canyon Passage is essential viewing for Western and Tourneur purists. A film that rewards more with each viewing if you keep your eyes and ears firmly on alert. 9/10
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!
I don't know what it is about this movie, but it left a strange, hypnotic effect on me since I first saw it as a kid in Boston. It has stayed with me all thru the years. Not only the breathtaking scenery of Oregon but the haunting quality of Hoagy Carmiachel's songs, like "Oh Buttermilk Sky". It really stays with you. Dana Andrews is perfect as Logan, (and what a perfect name for his character). Susan Haywood always glamorous and a great actor. Ward Bond, a villain, scary and unlikable the way he mistreats his dog in this film, by keeping it chained to a tree and throwing objects at it. What boy who loves dogs would not feel disturbed and hate him for that? The cabin building scene, with Andy Devine, does has a flaw. Look for it.
I never did think of "Canyon Passage" as a western -- more like a frontier-homesteader movie, but it still had the adventure and drama that makes a fine film. I agree with those that said there is something mysteriously appealing about this film, as I have remembered it since it came out in 1946 when so many other movies have long faded from memory. Ward Bond was not known for playing villains, and this performance was truly scary and sinister. Lloyd Bridges plays the friendly good guy that characterized his roles, and Dana Andrews is perfectly cast as the leader. The film is rather hard to find, and I am hoping a DVD will one day be available. It is well worth watching and collecting.
Colorful and vivid, Canyon Passage is crammed full of plots and subplots. It starts out looking like a family movie about pioneers in Oregon, but develops into a complex story with several key characters, the most important being Logan Stewart (Dana Andrews) a mule train outfitter whose business partner is compulsive gambler George Camrose (Brian Donlevy). Set mostly in a mining town, with settlers clearing the adjacent land for farms and wary native Americans watching their territory disappearing, it is a story that weaves together hit rich quick miners, gambling, pioneering, and a significant romance that brews between Camrose's girl Lucy Overmire (Susan Hayward) and Stewart, with Camrose piling on gambling debts and pilfering the till to pay them off. The precarious peace with the Indians is strained by the building of more and more cabins, and when it finally breaks there is a series of ruthless attacks on the settlers that are uncommonly brutal for a film made in 1946. With Ward Bond as mean and sadistic Honey Bragg, and Lloyd Bridges as gambling miner Johnny Steele, and Hoagy Carmichael as minstrel/philosopher Hi Linnet, this rather unknown western by Jacques Tournier, known more for Out of the Past and Cat People is a real departure from the Wayne/Ford/Hawks pictures of this era.
Canyon Passage (1946)
This is a tale with a not so subtle moral message--the man who is modest, just, and hardworking is the better man. And he'll get the sassy girl, the one who is currently attached to the gambling big spender who is the good man's friend and opposite. Dana Andrews plays the virtuous leading man perfectly--he's strong without being a tough or outrageous strong man (like John Wayne) and he's also kind, with a smile the shoots off his sombre face like a flash of light. That's he's popular with women is no surprise, but he's committed most of all to being a successful businessman, and a restless one, roving from outpost to outpost in beautiful Oregon.
His counterpart is the likable but flawed Brian Donlevy, who is really the perfect choice here because he isn't the kind of paradigm we will quite fall in love with. The woman who steals the show is Susan Hayward. And then there is Hoagy Carmichael, playing a role he often plays, the musician wise man who sees everything and understands it before anyone else. It's a great group, supported by hundreds of others (yes--an ambitious film) and directed with a subtle, fast touch by the unsung great, Jacques Tourneur.
So, in short, "Canyon Passage" was surprise and a total pleasure. I couldn't take my eyes off of the photography and the rich color, good pure Technicolor with the redoubtable Natalie Kalmus coordinating. The plot is strong, and Andrews is terrific in scene after scene. Westerns are sometimes difficult to see from the 21st Century without putting it into some history of film context, but this one works as a drama, pure and simple, a drama set out west in the late 1800s. The movie is also unique in being set in the lush mountains near Portland, Oregon. The scenery is gorgeous in the big sense, but every small scene is lush and forested and rainy--almost the opposite of that dry, open, blue sky norma in a "Western" strictly speaking. Interiors in golden lamplight lead to exteriors of dripping greens and blues, or the delicate grays of night.
Even the music is great, especially the lighthearted and clever songs by Carmichael. (The great Frank Skinner handled the rest of the score.) Edward Cronjager is one of the dozen great cinematographers of classic Hollywood, and in this you can see why. It's a complex film, visually, and it never lets up. Especially the night scenes (where the lights and sets could be controlled perfectly) are vivid and have that controlled beauty of great studio (and location) Hollywood. If any of these elements sound good, I wouldn't miss this film.
"Canyon Passage" though advertised as a western, plays more like a
pioneer frontier drama with most of the characters looking like miners
or loggers rather than the traditional Hollywood cowboys. To its credit
and that of Director Jacques Tourneur, the set pieces look authentic
and you believe that you are in the Oregon wilderness of the 1850s.
Logan Stewart (Dana Andrews) runs a freight business out of the small settlement of Jacksonville. The story opens with Stewart escorting Lucy Overmire (Susan Hayward), the fiancé of his friend local banker George Camrose (Brian Donlevy), back from San Fransico. Therin you have the eternal triangle even though Stewart is to marry Caroline Marsh (Paricia Roc) who is living with the family of Ben Dance (Andy Devine).
Camrose however, has a gambling problem. He is running up a large amount of IOUs with gambler Jack Lestrade (Onslow Stevens). Stewart bales him out with the promise that he will quit gambling. Town bully Bragg (Ward Bond) has it in for Stewart. They brawl in the local saloon.
Camrose meanwhile, has continued to gamble. To cover his losses, he is stealing gold from the deposits left on deposit with him. One of the miners returns unexpectedly and Camrose murders him to keep his secret. When Stewart leaves town, Lastrade sets Bragg after him without success. In the forest, Bragg murders a young Indian maiden which starts an Indian war and....................................
Dana Andrews to me, never made a convincing western hero. His fight with Bond is totally unbelievable as the slightly built Andrews bests the hulking Bond. Bond by the way, turns in an excellent performance as the brutal and lustful Bragg. Susan Hayward is beautiful with her res hair afire in glorious Technicolor. Donlevy, also excellent, plays Camrose not as a villain but as a man caught by the evils of his addiction to gambling.
Others in the cast include Lloyd Bridges as Johnny Steele a robust young minor and Hoagy Carmichael as wandering minstrel Hi Linnet (who among others sings his classic "Ole Buttermilk Sky". Andy Devine's two sons Ted and Danny play his sons in the film. Director Tourneur had worked with the legendary producer, Val Lewton earlier in the 40s.
A beautifully photographed film with authentic looking set pieces.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film opens in Portland, Oregon in the 1850s; businessman Logan
Stewart rides into town and withdraws some of his gold from storage; he
runs a freight business and wants to expand; ultimately he hopes to
bring the stage coach to the growing town. Somebody obviously knows he
has gold on him as he is attacked in his room during the night; the
assailant gets away but Logan has an idea who it could be; Honey Bragg;
a man Logan suspects murdered a couple of miners a few days before. The
next morning he leaves town with Lucy, the fiancée of his friend
George. They are heading to Jacksonville where George runs the gold
store... in effect the town bank. For some time after this nothing much
happens; we see the townsfolk coming together to build a house for a
couple of newly wed farmers; there is a tense but peaceful meeting with
the local Indians and we learn that George likes to gamble rather more
than he should. The action kicks off later when a man is murdered
shortly after returning to town; George is the chief suspect as it is
believed that he had been helping himself to peoples gold. Logan points
out that the evidence is circumstantial and their 'trial' isn't legal
but it is clear that they intend to hang George at nightfall; when he
sees a chance Logan helps his friend escape. Bragg meanwhile has killed
again; this time an Indian woman... the rest of the tribe are now on
the warpath and many people will die before peace returns to
Given its age I had expected this film to be in black and white but it was in glorious Technicolor... just what the glorious Oregon setting required! The opening half of the film may have been fairly action free but it did a fine job of introducing us to the characters and giving us a glimpse in to the lives of people living far away from 'civilisation'... they may have been in the United States but if something needed doing they had to do it themselves; that included defending themselves when things got dangerous. By the time the action started I had grown to care about the characters. The action when it came was more shocking than I'd expected; among those we see killed are women and children we have been introduced to earlier on. The characters aren't all what one would expect in a western of this era; this is especially true of George who puts his gambling addiction ahead of his fiancée and is almost certainly guilty of the murder he was accused of. The acting was solid with Dana Andrews doing a good job as Logan and Brian Donlevy being equally good as his friend George. Director Jacques Tourneur did a fine job; perhaps it is because he was French rather than American that this feels so different from other westerns of that era I've seen. Overall I'd certainly recommend this to fans of the genre.
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