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Wells Fargo stages are being robbed by 'The Poet' and no one can find out who he is. Wylie is a gambler who is found by the sheriff and gives him the option of going back to a questionable trial in Carson City or finding 'The Poet' for the stage line. Wylie decides to look for the outlaw and he rides out in the stage with Ann and Emily to Cheyenne. He soon finds that the Sundance gang is waiting for 'The Poet' so he impersonates him and finds that Ann is the wife of the outlaw. Wylie is concerned about the gang, 'The Poet' and Ann. Written by
Tony Fontana <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Underrated and surprisingly adult Western from a master
Critics like Phil Hardy have tended to dismiss Cheyenne as the least of Walsh's Westerns. My own viewing suggests a reassessment is in order. I saw this movie with another Walsh title, the more highly esteemed Along The Great Divide, just afterwards and was struck by how much more interesting, playful and modern the former appeared. By contrast Divide seemed predictable and more schematic.
The barely concealed sexual nature of much of the banter between hero Dennis Morgan (Wylie) and the two women he encounters - particularly Jane Wyman (Ann) who, for a period, poses as his wife - as well as the episodic nature of the plot is what gives the film its particular flavour today.
Another attraction is that like other Walsh Westerns (Pursued, Colorado Territory etc) noir elements are also prominent in Cheyenne. The overriding tone is cynical and Morgan's own predicament, as a man who has to solve a crime to clear himself of his own past, brings with it a background air of persecution closely related to that other, typically urban, genre. Ann has the air of a femme fatale, while the Sundance Kid (another marvellously laid back performance by Arthur Kennedy) insinuates suitable menace. In fact, I found his demise somewhat surprising as I would normally expect such a strong character to last to the showdown at the end of the film.
One of the most impressive scenes in the film is when Wylie and Ann face the returning robbers in the ramshackle hut they have shared with them the night before. The gunfight that follows is done imaginatively, while Walsh's talent as director are fully on display as he creates suspense through cutting and framing. At this time Wylie and Ann are still carrying on the husband and wife pretence which adds a further level of tension to the proceedings.
If there is a problem with the film it is in the occasional jarring nature of tone. Scenes follow each other that are menacing, flirtatious and comic. This creates a feeling of unease for the viewer that was perhaps deliberate, but the sudden gear change can also just be disconcerting. The musical score is outstanding as is the cinematography and both add immeasurably to the quality of the production.
Dennis Morgan made more impact on me in this film than he ever has before - perhaps because I have never looked out for him in particular. Here he is surprisingly muscular, a worthy foil for the machinations of the chief villain The Poet. The Poet's precise relationship to his wife is one of the most intriguing aspects of the early part of the film. Morgan's own teasing relationship with the two women he meets on the stage (both at the start and again at the conclusion of the film - a nice circular touch) is also interesting and provoking. Far more than the stereotypical Good girl/Bad Girl duality that appears in B-Western plots, the two women represent something more sophisticated and interesting, something that keeps the viewer interested.
This may be a forgotten film today, but if you like Westerns it is one definitely worth making an effort to see. It is not on the level of Walsh's very finest work but is still a good film, one in which the varied plot line and adult 'knowingness'of the leads give great enjoyment.
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