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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

SOUTH OF ST. LOUIS (1949)

WAY south of St. Louis . . . like Texas/Mexico. The reference is to that part of the country, far from the Mason-Dixon Line, where allegiance to the North or the South during the Civil War was a fluid thing. That’s the situation for Joel McCrea, Zachary Scott & Douglas Kennedy, partners at Three Bells Ranch. Their place has been burned to the ground by Victor Jory’s Yankee crew of renegades, an act that pushes two of them into gunrunning for the South and the third into joining the Confederates, in a tale that’s more Western than war pic. Young Dorothy Malone plays the good girl McCrea hopes to come back to, and Alexis Smith the bad gal who’s got financial connections across the border. It’s an interesting set up that brings out the best from journeyman helmer Ray Enright, even if he can’t quite clarify the lines of action on some of the big set pieces. Enright’s game is likely bumped up by having Karl Freund as lenser. It’s a rare TechniColor credit for him, first since a pair back in the early ‘40s, and he seems to revel in the possibilities. Especially in the first two reels which have a looser feel to them. And what a print to show off his work! Released by Warners, but produced independently, it must have slipped thru the usual distribution cracks and quietly sat in near mint condition. Great clarity, with the original TechniColor dyes still aglow. An unpretentious B+ Western, but a good one.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Smith is a knock-out here. Dig that wasp-waist. (Too bad they didn’t let her do her own vocals.) Dolled up for most of the film, she’s au naturale at the tag with beauty mark missing, but beauty intact.

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