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Monday, April 6, 2009

NIGHT PASSAGE (1957)

The Rocky Mountains look Technirama-cally spectacular in this elaborately produced Western starring James Stewart as a disgraced railroad man who gets a second chance. But when you're responsible for $10,000 in payroll money and your reputation's on the line, it doesn’t help if the gang of robbers standing between you and the end of the line includes your own kid brother (Audie Murphy). Stewart had just ended a series of psychologically complex Westerns under the sure hand of helmer Anthony Mann, and his replacement, newbie director James Neilson, proves a competent, but faceless substitute. He’s unable to ‘run’ the multiple storylines of the final act and lets some solid actors really ham things up. (Maybe Dan Duryea thought he could jolt a reaction out of the placid Mr. Murphy.) And there are odd little goofs all thru the pic, like when Stewart apologizes for having apple pie at breakfast (as common as a doughnut at the time), and you can’t miss spotting that distinctive ‘crosshatched’ Saks Fifth Avenue box . . . in the Colorado territory of 1870? Well, it’s always nice to meet up with Brandon de Wilde, playing a runaway kid Stewart befriends, and it’s a kick to hear Jimmy sing & play the accordion (if only Dmitri Tiomkin‘s score weren’t so reminiscent of his work on GIANT/’56).  But when Neilson tries work Stewart’s musical act into the climax, the giggle factor comes into play.

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