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Friday, March 14, 2014

WESTERN UNION (1941)

Fritz Lang had no sooner finished his JESSE JAMES/’39 sequel, THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES/’40, when 20th/Fox assigned him another Western. The title’s from Zane Grey, but this is an ultra-traditional horse opera, awash in flaming TechniColor, savage drunken In’juns, bouncing chuck wagon, telegraph poles marching Westward Ho!, and a rivalry between Randolph Scott’s classic ‘Good Badman’ and Robert Young’s rich Eastern tenderfoot, competing for leadership on the line & in romance with blandly pretty Virginia Gilmore. And damned if it ain’t one fine show, not so far off the C. B. DeMille model of UNION PACIFIC/’39, but lighter on its feet. In fact, the whole pic has a real Hollywood swing to it, quite at odds with the UFA æsthetic Lang usually cultivated. But as a German exile, where the myth of the Wild West looms large, Lang must have taken lots of pleasure simply in making a big outdoorsy Western. You can feel his enthusiasm coursing thru Edward Cronjager’s gorgeous location lensing and in some relaxed perfs from Scott, Young and the tasty supporting cast. All capped off with a series of neatly handled action set pieces and a dandy shootout finale that’s clean as a blueprint diagram, but heaps more exciting.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: A passion for geometric patterns made Lang a natural for Native American art, touring Indian Reservation sites during production. But, as Patrick McGilligan notes in his Lang bio, THE NATURE OF THE BEAST, after Lang finished shooting, Fox honcho Darryl F. Zanuck ordered up much of the most offensive In’jun footage. Zanuck also takes the blame for bumping up Slim Summerville’s tiresome comic-relief shtick as a scaredy-cat cook. Welcome to the studio-system, Fritz!

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