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The workers on the railroad haven't been paid in months --- that's because Whitey and his gang, including fast-shooting, dangerous, but likeable Utica Kid, keep holding up the train for its payroll. Grant McLaine, a former railroad employee who was fired in disgrace, is recruited to take the payroll through under cover. A young boy and a shoebox figure into the plot when Whitey's gang tries to hold up the train and Grant and the Kid meet again to settle an old score. Written by
This was originally intended to be the sixth Western combining the talents of actor James Stewart and director Anthony Mann (they had also done three non-Westerns together), but Mann pulled out of the project because he wasn't impressed with war hero-turned-actor Audie Murphy. Stewart and the director would never make another picture together. See more »
At the old mill during the shootout you can clearly see an airplane strip in the sky. See more »
As many Western fans know, Night Passage was all set up to be the sixth genre collaboration between director Anthony Mann and actor James Stewart. After a run of successful and genre defining "adult" Westerns, the prospect of another was mouth watering to the genre faithful. The promise of something good was further boosted by the names of others involved in the project. The screenplay is written by Borden Chase (Red River/Winchester '73), cinematographer was William H. Daniels (The Far Country), the score is from Dimitri Tiomkin (High Noon/Giant) and joining Stewart in the cast are Audie Murphy, Dan Duryea, Jay C. Flippen, Jack Elam & the wee lad from Shane, Brandon De Wilde. That's some serious Western credentials. But sadly Mann was to bail at the last minute, the reason(s) given vary depending on what source you believe.
It's thought that Mann was unimpressed with Chase's screenplay, feeling it lacked a cutting edge (as reportedly so did Stewart). The casting of Murphy was also said to be a bone of contention to the talented director, while it has simply been put down to him having other commitments (he had both The Tin Star & Men in War out in 1957). Either way, Mann was out and the film was never going to be better for that situation (sadly Mann & Stewart fell out over it and never worked together again). In came TV director James Neilson and the film was wrapped and released with mixed commercial results. Yet the film still remains today rather divisive amongst the Western faithful, due in the main one feels, to that Mann spectre of potentially a better film hanging over it.
Night Passage is a good enough genre offering, but the plot is slight and the story lacks the dark intensity that Mann, one thinks, would have given it. The story follows an overly familiar tale about two brothers (Stewart/Murphy), one bad, one good. A story from which Chase's screenplay holds no surprises, it is in truth pretty underwhelming writing. With the actual core relationship of the brothers lacking any emotional depth. However, there's more than enough visually here to offset the standard plotting and make this a very enjoyable experience. Shot in Technicolor's short-lived "Technirama" process, the widescreen palette pings once the cameras leave the back lot and goes off into the mountains of Colorado.
Trains are the order of the day here, as Chase adapts from a story by Norman A. Fox, it's the train that becomes the central character, deliberate or not. As the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway snakes its way thru the gorgeous terrain, it's that image one takes away, not anything that the thinly scripted characters have done. Still, in spite of its literary flaws, Neilson shows himself to be competent with the action set pieces, of which there are quite a few. While Stewart is as reliable as ever, even getting to play an accordion (a hobby of his since childhood) and sing a couple of chirpy tunes. Of the rest, Dianne Foster leaves a good impression as the Utica Kid's (Murphy) girlfriend and Murphy himself does solid work with his cheeky grin, slick hair and black jacketed attire that shows Utica to be something of a suspicious character.
Good but not great in writing and thematics, but essential for Western fans with big TV's. 6.5/10
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