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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

DENVER AND RIO GRANDE (1952)

Solid, straightforward programmer from Byron Haskin, a sort of horseless Western about building the first narrow-gauge train route thru the Rockies, with two competing companies fighting over land rights. Edmund O’Brien, J. Carroll Naish & Dean Jaggar play tough, but honest for the eponymous D&RG line while dastardly Sterling Hayden & villainous Lyle Bettger scheme up deadly sabotage working for the bad guys. And it’s no fair fight since love interest Laura Elliot plays loyal secretary to Jaggar by day and devious informant to Hayden by night! All because she mistakenly thinks O’Brien murdered her surveyor brother when the actual culprit was . . . Sterling Hayden. Yikes! Wait’ll she finds out how wrong she’s been! Not that you’ll care much since the backstory & character biz remain on the sketchy side, as does some lame-O comic relief from Zasu Pitts & Paul Fix as geriatric lovebirds. Best to concentrate on the fine scenery & cool narrow-gauge trains which often look toy-like, but are the real McCoy.; all black engine smoke & white puffs of steam as they chug thru the mountain gorges. Uncomplicated & highly watchable.

DOUBLE-BILL: Haskin, O’Brien & Rennahan were just off another little Western, SILVER CITY/’51 (see below). It comes with a more developed story they have trouble pulling off. Instead, see what a superior talent like Jacques Tourneau brings to similar B+ Western terrain in WICHITA’55.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Early TechniColor specialist Ray Rennahan, no longer owning those big, prestige assignments of the ‘30s & ‘40s, was transitioning into tv work. In hindsight, his real skill probably stemmed from solving the problems and ‘riding’ the odd limitations of the early TechniColor process. Mastering the hazards & trick behavior of early TechniColor gave him what artistry he had. And one-by-one, as the technical problems were solved, his D.P. ordinariness was revealed. No wonder his best credits came on films he either co-lensed or made under exacting directors.

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