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Passage West (1951)

Approved | | Western | July 1951 (USA)
In 1864, six Salt Lake prison escapees join a wagon train headed for California but tensions between inmates and settlers complicate the perilous voyage.

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(story), (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Pete Black
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Jacob Karns
...
Rose Billings
...
Curly
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Myra Johnson
...
Michael Karns
Richard Rober ...
Mike
...
Papa Emil Ludwig
...
Rainbow
Mary Field ...
Miss Swingate
...
Ben Johnson
...
Nellie McBride
...
Pop Brennan
...
Mom Brennan
Ilka Grüning ...
Mama Ludwig (as Ilka Gruning)
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Storyline

In 1863, having escaped from a rock-quarry prison in Salt Lake, six inmates led by convicted murderer Pete Black take over a small wagon train headed by preacher Jacob Karns. Tensions and hardships grow as the travelers continue to trek toward California across dry, desolate country. Written by dinky-4 of Minneapolis

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Western

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

July 1951 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

High Venture  »

Filming Locations:

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Recording)

Color:

(Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Quotes

Mr. Brody, Undertaker: By the way, Reverend, I'm the undertaker. The only silk-lined hearse west of Independence. I'm on the way to the cemetery now. I have a little trouble gettin' the pallbearers out of town, ah, on account of the saloon, you know. Once we get 'em out in the open, I can bury a man real fast.
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User Reviews

 
More than just a B-western
19 February 2006 | by (Minneapolis) – See all my reviews

While not a notable piece of film-making, this modest western offers so many satisfactions and surprises that it almost merits the designation of "undiscovered gem." After an opening sequence that quickly and efficiently sets up the story, we learn that John Payne will, unexpectedly, play the movie's "bad guy." He's a killer who seems to take grim pleasure in the fact that his escape from prison resulted in the deaths of three guards. There's no attempt to soften his image by suggesting he'd been unjustly convicted and there's no plea for sympathy by, for example, showing a back cruelly scarred by an overseer's whip.

After taking over Dennis O'Keefe's wagon train, Payne seems drawn to leading lady Arleen Whelan but aside from one passionate kiss in a rainstorm, the standard romance between these two never develops. What's more, Whelan's character defies what would have ordinarily been a "goody-goody" role. She's by turns cynical, sullen, and selfish and she never becomes particularly likable.

Dooley ("Casablanca") Wilson also appears in the cast at a time when black faces were rarely featured in movies in general and in westerns in particular.

As the wagon train that Payne and his cohorts take over makes its way to California, the usual hardships occur but they seem a bit starker than usual. A baby dies from lack of milk, its mother drifts into madness, a calf greatly valued by its elderly owners breaks its leg and must be destroyed, a schoolteacher's prize collection of seedlings gets tossed by the side of the road, a father must bury his child. Only at the end of their journey do these pioneers find any respite from their troubles but then there's an explosion inside a tunnel which results in a death and a shift in relationships few would have expected at the start of the movie.

Since Lewis Foster's work classifies him as little more than a journeyman director, the unique qualities of "Passage West" can probably be ascribed to the script co-written by the blacklisted writer, Alvah Bessie. Loyal Griggs, who later won an Oscar nomination for "The Ten Commandments," provides the cinematography which is heavily slanted toward exterior shots. In fact, the first interior, (a saloon), comes at the movie's three-quarters mark.

John Payne, with an uncharacteristic mustache, and Dennis O'Keefe work together much better here than in their earlier "The Eagle and the Hawk" but minor actress Arleen Whelan can do little with the intriguing but sketchily-drawn figure of "Rose." As might be expected -- most notably in the tunnel sequence -- Payne gets a chance to shed his shirt revealing that thatch of chest-hair he had to shave off during his clean-cut and boyish days back in the 1940s.


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