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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The character Stewart portrays in "Night Passage" is the kind Mann
intensely dislikes... A railroad worker entrusted with a payroll finds
that the bandits, trying to rob it, are led by his own brother, so he
assumes the blame for it himself...
With a soft cast including Brandon de Wilde and Herbert Anderson, Stewart felt himself very much in command... Maybe because he had enough of getting thrown under horses hooves, being shot in the hand, and dragged through fire... So he allowed himself to play the accordion, and to sing two Dimitri Tiomkin-Ned Washington songs: "Follow the River," and "You Can't Get Far Without a Railroad."
Dan Duryea gets the role of a railroad raider whose gang includes Stewart's wayward brother Audie Murphy... Gentle Brandon de Wilde is a teenager in whom Stewart takes a filial interest, and there is a climactic shoot-out with Duryea and his force of men...
The differences between Mann's Western concepts and Stewart's are on dramatic display in the film... The screenplay is written much more to Stewart's style, revealing a more kind humane quality... While Neilson is no action director, he does moderately well, providing standard excitement with the gunfights and chase scenes... But the movie lacks the severe sadism that Mann would have injected it...
Beautifully photographed, atmospheric western that takes a while to build up under James Neilson's direction--he took over from Anthony Mann, who was fired after clashing with star James Stewart--but ends with a slam-bang finale. Stewart and Audie Murphy work well together, with Stewart as a railroad employee entrusted with getting a payroll past a gang of train robbers, and Murphy his brother who's a member of the gang. Dan Duryea excelled at playing sadistic villains with a twisted sense of humor who actually got a kick out of their work, and he does another good job of it here. A solid supporting cast including Jack Elam, Robert J. Wilke and Herbert Anderson contributes to the film's enjoyability, along with some spectacular mountain scenery. While no masterpiece, it's a good, satisfying western with a catchy little ditty sung by, of all people, Stewart. Check it out.
Without Anthony Mann to deliver the goods, one would expect "Night
Passage" to be a flop under the direction of the TV-oriented James
Neilson. Quite the contrary is the case. This is one of the best
westerns of the 50's. Audie Murphy, continually underrated by the
Hollywood big wigs, turns in his best performance ever, even better
than in the more touted "The Red Badge of Courage" or in "To Hell and
Back" in which he plays himself. One senses that he is actually
portraying himself more in "Night Passage" than in his autobiographical
film. He is up against stiff competition and more than takes care of
himself. James Stewart is fine as always and his accordion playing is
above average. Hell, even his singing isn't all that bad. Some
entertainers with less musical talent have built careers for themselves
in the record industry. Dan Duryea gives an over the top rendition of
gang leader Whitey Harbin, which isn't bad, just different for the
gifted actor. The only one wasted in the picture is the fabulous Jack
Elam, given only a minor character role with no place to go with it.
The rest of the cast, including Hugh Beaumont, aka Ward Cleaver, strut
their stuff, including the two women, Dianne Foster and Elaine Stewart.
Brandon De Wilde is still playing his Joey Starrett part from "Shane."
The viewer can almost hear him yelling, "Shane! Come back, Shane!"
The script by Borden Chase from a story by Norman Fox is a fairly predictable one, reminiscent in some ways of the more complex one Chase wrote for the Stewart/Mann masterpiece, "Winchester '73." Grant McLaine (Stewart) wants his old railroad job back. He's provided the opportunity by doing a job for the railroad, personally carrying the payroll to the workers at the end of the track to prevent Whitey and his gang from stealing it as they were in the habit of doing on a regular basis. There is a conflict of interest though since a gun riding with the Whitey gang is The Utica Kid (Murphy) with whom McLaine has a private connection. Unable to find the payroll, Whitey and his gang kidnap the wife of railroad tycoon, Ben Kimball (Jay C. Flippen), holding her until the payroll is turned over to them. The title "Night Passage" concerns not only the action that takes place in the night between McLaine and the gang but also the personal transactions that occur among the assorted characters involved in the resolution of the story.
Another asset for "Night Passage" is the cinematography zeroing in on the beautiful Colorado landscape around Durango. The Narrow Gauge Railroad train ride from Durango to Silverton is available for tourists to see the topography first hand. The El Rio de las Animas Perdidas (The River of Lost Souls), called the Animas River by most, is indeed a site to behold.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As good a Western as it is, "Night Passage" was filmed under quite
unfortunate circumstances. The primary disaster involved the breakup of
James Stewart (my favorite actor) and director Anthony Mann, who
suddenly walked off the picture very early in production. Apparently
the cast and crew knew about Stewart's and Mann's parting of ways and
simply wished to get the picture over with. And according to Jack Elam,
who played one of the bad guys named Shotgun, the miserable weather in
Durango, Colorado caused delays in the filming and subsequently some
pretty hot tempers.
Nevertheless, "Night Passage" is a good Western about an itinerant musician named Grant McLaine (Stewart), who is hired by railroad tycoon Ben Kimball (Jay C. Flippen) to defend the payroll train against Whitey Harbin (Dan Duryea) and his gang. It so happens that one of the outlaws is McLaine's brother, known as the Utica Kid (Audie Murphy). Stewart and Murphy do a very fine job together in this Western, and the casting of Duryea as the head villain is so great it is quite laughable. One particular author pointed out that Duryea gives one of his whiniest performances in "Night Passage," and he is correct.
The best thing about this film is that it offers Stewart the opportunity to play the accordion, which he did in real life, and sing. The three tunes that he performs in this movie are "Sweet Betsy from Pike," "Follow the River," and "You Can't Get Far Without a Railroad." His singing is fine, but his accordion playing is obviously faked, and for myself, this is a major disappointment. Watch how brilliantly Stewart handles a rifle in "Winchester '73" (1950) or how accurately he handles the slide positions on a trombone in "The Glenn Miller Story" (1954). These two examples reveal the authenticity of Stewart's handling of various objects on film, as if he had used them all his life. Hence I am at a complete loss to understand why Stewart could not be equally as authentic with the accordion, an instrument he had played since he was a boy. Fortunately, I do not allow this disappointment to prevent me from enjoying the three songs.
"Night Passage" did not receive the greatest reviews, and it is certainly not James Stewart's most popular Western. But it is still a good one, with beautiful scenery, shoot-'em-up action, a lively dance sequence, and pleasant music.
The workers on the railroad are threatening to stop work and slow down
the progress across the country because they haven't been getting paid.
Every time the payroll is brought in it is stolen by Whitey Harbin and
his gang. Thinking that nobody would suspect him, the bosses ask
ex-employee Grant McLaine to carry the money on the next train. However
when the train gets robbed anyway, Grant loses the money and is forced
to set out after Whitey to rescue a boy, the boss' wife and the money
bringing him into a fight with the infamous Utica Kid.
I was drawn to this film by the names in the cast list, which was a good thing because it were these names that made the film better than they were by virtue of their performances. The actual plot is quite plodding in the first half but gets better in the second half. Even with this stronger half though it is still not a great western that could possibly compare to Stewart's better films. The musical numbers, dances and gentle set up of the first half almost had be losing interest and it is only the twists and gun fights of the final 30 minutes that make it memorable and worth seeing. Even then it is not without other flaws characters are a problem. If you are able to understand the Utica Kid as a person then you are doing better than I did in fact the film even lost it's first choice director because he was unable to understand the character's personality or motivation. The rest of the characters are pretty much as you'd expect loyal girls, evil villains, cute kids etc, although they are made better by the delivery.
Stewart is always watchable and he carries the film well here. He is not a great singer but he does OK with the songs given him but his greater input is in delivering a tough character who is not all pure goodness but has a bit of a past to him. Murphy is cool and slick but he isn't a great actor and he isn't able to make the slightly irrational Utica Kid work as a person. Duryea overacts to good effect but gets forgotten by the film near the end, while support is OK from Stewart, Foster, De Wilde and Jack Elam.
Overall this is nothing special but it is still quite enjoyable. The number of well known names in the cast prevent me from calling it a B-movie but essentially that's what it could have been if not for the stars. The plot is deadly slow for the first half but has a good, fast-paced final 30 minutes that make up for it. The actors (in particular James Stewart) lift the film and make it feel better and it is fun if pretty unmemorable.
This is the Western that director Anthony Mann backed away from,
claiming that the script was too weak. Was he justified in doing so?
How does "Night Passage" measure up when compared with the Mann
Westerns? Is it as good?
Let's look at the positives first. The scenery, filmed in the Colorado Rockies, is magnificent, on a par with the best of Mann's Westerns. As for action, there is plenty of it, climaxed with a great shootout. The cast is experienced, many of them veterans from previous Mann efforts. No big difference here.
Audie Murphy stands tall as the Utica Kid. He is introduced to the screen dramatically, framed against the sky dressed all in black as he pulls up his horse to look down upon the train that will soon be relieved of its precious cargo. Back at the outlaw hideaway, he sits back in quiet amusement as he goads mercurial boss Whitey Harbin (Dan Duryea), knowing how far he can push and when to back away. Definitely the most interesting character.
However, "Night Passage" falls down in two very important areas, the treatment of the leading man and the strength of the overall script.
Mann's heroes are emotionally scarred, bordering on hysteria and total breakdown before finally getting the upper hand. James Stewart's Grant McLaine never comes close to reaching that point, even though he has plenty of things to fret about; his brother is an outlaw, he lost his job with the railroad after helping his brother escape and he can't find another job. He contents himself playing the accordion and singing for small change and we can never really get the feel of his deep resentment.
Mann's Westerns are lean and taut, with no superfluous dialog and no wasted scenes. Director James Nielson, on the other hand, gets sidetracked, allowing himself to engage in the kind of tomfoolery that director John Ford was sometimes wont to do. At the railroad camp, workers, who we never see working, dance to McLaine's accordion playing until that degrades into a wild free-for-all. Ford could pull off this kind of thing; Nielson is less successful.
To sum up and answer the question, this Western doesn't quite measure up to those of Mann's, but it's not bad either. It can be enjoyed as entertainment as long as one doesn't look for great character depth. Whether Anthony Mann could have made it something more will forever be a matter of conjecture.
Jimmy Stewart made some wonderful Westerns in the late 1940s and
through the 50s. Compared the the average Western of the time, they had
rather complex and featured non-traditional plots. As a rule, I
actually hate the formulaic Western, as they have absolutely nothing
new to offer and are just too derivative to be taken seriously. While
this movie does have some new plot devices and the excellent acting of
Stewart, this movie is the closest of these Westerns to approach the
old formulaic themes. As a result, it is probably my least favorite of
his films, but it is still pretty watchable.
Stewart, uncharacteristically, is a traveling accordion player (I am NOT kidding about this, really) and he has been doing this job for several years since being blamed for a train robbery (he was working for the railroad at the time). This film gives him a chance to prove himself and regain his old job with the railroad. But, along the way he encounters Brandon DeWilde (the cute kid from Shane who was killed at a very young age) and Audie Murphy (the war hero and actor who also died way too young). Aside from these two characters and Stewart, nothing about the plot is particularly outstanding. A decent and watchable film, but awfully predictable and forgettable.
By the way--a note to movie buffs--you DO get to hear Jimmy Stewart sing several songs in this film! While his singing was absolutely awful in BORN TO DANCE, in this film it isn't bad--the loud and cacophonous according did great things to hide his less than stellar voice! If only he'd used it in this previous musical!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Night Passage was supposed to be the 6th western and 9th film of the
director/actor combination of James Stewart and Anthony Mann.
Unfortunately Stewart and Mann quarreled and Mann walked off the
picture. James Neilson, who later went on to direct a bunch of Disney
products, did most of the film. Of course Jimmy Stewart and a cast of
Mann regulars like Jay C. Flippen, Robert J. Wilke, Dan Duryea, knew
what was expected of them and delivered the goods.
Night Passage like the first Stewart/Mann film, Winchester 73 is the story of a good and bad brother. Stewart was a former railroad detective who was fired off the job for giving a break to bad brother Audie Murphy. Murphy is popularly known as fast gun Utica Kid and he rides with Dan Duryea's outlaw band. Like in Winchester 73, Dan Duryea's criminal activities deter Stewart in his mission.
Unlike in Winchester 73, Stewart's mission is to redeem and not kill his outlaw brother. That's a task easier said than done as Murphy, Duryea and the gang hold up the train Stewart's on that is carrying the railroad payroll. What happens to the brothers and the gang is the story behind Night Pasage.
Anthony Mann even though he was not directing this had the path already marked out and the players followed his lead. Audie Murphy and Jimmy Stewart, World War II heroes both, have a good chemistry between them. Dan Duryea like in Winchester 73 is unforgettable as the slightly psychotic outlaw leader.
Also featured here is Jimmy Stewart playing the accordion and singing a couple of songs that blend nicely with the plot. No surprise to real movie fans, after all Stewart is the guy who introduced Cole Porter's Easy to Love in Born to Dance.
I have watched this movie many, many times and I find it enjoyable every time. I have found this to be one of my favorite Audie Murphy vehicles. The role Audie played as the Utica Kid is quite refreshing, I'm sure that not all the badmen were void of personalities. The witty and sarcastic dialogue between Utica and Whitey shows how the leadership of the gang was always open ended. Throughout the movie the end is always assured in that good will prevail, you still have the hope that Grant will convince Lee to return to his father teachings. I believe that anyone watching this movie will find it to be very enjoyable and entertaining.
Hearing James Stewart play the accordion and sing is probably not the most pleasant part of this film. Great actor, bad singer. World War II Congressional Medal of Honor winner Audie Murphy, not usually recognized as a top acting talent, turns in the best performance in this film and he and Stewart are surrounded by a cast of great character actors. "Night Passage" was the first U.S. film produced in Technirama, a superior large format wide screen system developed by Technicolor, Inc., and the photography is extremely good. Worth a look.
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