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Cowboy Ross McEwen arrives in town. He asks the banker for a loan of $2000. When the banker asks about securing a loan that large, McEwen shows him his six-gun collateral. The banker hands over the money in exchange for an I.O.U., signed "Jefferson Davis". McEwen rides out of town and catches a train, but not before being bitten by a rattler. On the train, a nurse, Miss Hollister, tends to his wound. A posse searches the train, but McEwen manages to escape notice. However a mysterious Mexican has taken note of the cowboy, and that loudmouthed brat is still nosing around. Who will be the first to claim the reward for the robber's capture? Written by
Four Faces West (AKA: They Passed This Way) is directed by Alfred E. Green and collectively adapted to screenplay by C. Graham Baker, Teddi Sherman, William Brent and Milarde Brent from the novel Paso por acqui written by Eugene Manlove Rhodes. It stars Joel McCrea, Francis Dee, Charles Bickford and Joseph Calleia. Music is by Paul Sawtell and cinematography by Russell Harlan.
Ross McEwen (McCrea) robs the bank of Santa Maria but requests only $2,000 and issues an I.O.U. to the bank manager with the promise of paying back the money. The bank manager, aggrieved and agitated, puts a bounty of $3,000 on McEwen's head and quickly finds the law, in the form of Sheriff Pat Garrett (Bickford), aiding his cause. But McEwen is no ordinary thief, and as he makes his way across the lands during his escape, revelations and relationships will reveal something quite extraordinary.
All the things are in place here for a conventional 1940s Western movie, with the robbery of a bank followed by a posse pursuit, a serious sheriff on the case, a pretty gal turning heads and some card playing of course. Yet this is far from being a conventional Oater. Old fashioned? Yes! Definitely, but it's a beautifully crafted picture that relies on characterisations - locations - and a story of such humanistic redemptive qualities; it demands to be better known.
It has rightly been pointed out before that no blood is shed here, no bullets are fired; in fact bullets play a key part of the story for a different reason, but the action quota here is still very high. With blazing fire tactics used at one point and pursuits through the rocky terrain very much in evidence, the pic often raises the pulses. Tension is also provided by the efforts of McEwen to evade the attentions of the posse and the law, with some intelligent and believable methods put into action. The romance angle is also thoughtful and never cloying, given credence by real life lovers McCrea and Dee, while non white actors play South American characters without charges of stereotype or fodder being brought into play.
With first grade black and white photography from Harlan (New Mexico Tourist Board done a favour here), unfussy direction by Green, and a quartet of great performances by the principal players leading from the front, Four Faces West (not the best of titles to be fair) is a treat for the Western fan. It may lack a "shock" outcome but it sure as heck fire casts off cynicism and makes you feel better about people in general. Bravo! 8/10
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