Monday, March 20, 2017

Night Passage (1957)

Director: James Neilson

Writers: Borden Chase, Norman A. Fox

Composer: Dimitri Tiomkin

Starring: James Stewart, Audie Murphy, Dan Duryea, Dianne Foster, Elaine Stewart, Brandon De Wilde, Jay C. Flippen, Herbert Anderson, Robert J. Wilke, Hugh Beaumont, Jack Elam, Tommy Cook, Paul Fix, Olive Carey

More info: IMDb

Tagline: This was the night when the naked fury of the McLaines flamed out with consuming vengeance across a terrorized land!

Plot: A fired railroad man is rehired and trusted to carry a 10,000 dollar payroll in secret, even though he is suspected of being connected to outlaws.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

One bit of trivia on IMDb says the the original director, Anthony Mann, left the picture due to a falling out with Stewart (which is wild considering the pair had worked on 8 pictures previously).  It goes on to say Mann thought the script was bad and that Audie Murphy wasn't a good enough actor to be in film.  I read all of this after seeing the film and I have to agree.  I can't go so far as to say the script is bad but it's certainly average.  The film feels like it might've started as a B-picture until someone wrangled a top A-list star like Stewart to head up the cast, at which point more money was thrown at it but without improving the story and dialogue.  Why the film is titled NIGHT PASSAGE is beyond me except that maybe it's because there's a chunk of it that takes place at night where the good guys and the bad guys hang out at some joint until morning when it's guns-a'blazin'.  You might be able to find an answer offered up by someone on the IMDb message boards except IMDb recently took the boards off their site.  Idiots.

The cast is all over the place.  Most of the actors are OK to great but there are a few that had their own thing going that felt out of place.  Dan Duryea plays Whitey, the leader of the bad guys who keep robbing the railroad company's payroll train and he's playing it over the top like he's in a stage play.  It's simply too much.  Some of his gang, like Jack Elam (as Shotgun), are great in comparison.  Audi Murphy (look up this guy's life and feel humbled) is slightly monotone and drab.  But then there's this eccentric side to his mannerisms, from his walk to how he handles himself that's borderline laughable.  He plays an outlaw, The Utica Kid, who's a part of Whitey's gang and he puts off a serious Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) vibe from BLAZING SADDLES (1974) that felt like it was a direct inspiration for Wilder.  Another distraction from Murphy is that you can see him hitting his marks and thinking too much about the acting.  He came into acting late in life and he was made into a star because of his WWII exploits and I cut him some slack for that but he's so obvious about it that it hurts the picture.  Jimmy Stewart?  He's good but not completely.  I've always loved the guy but he too has his limitations.  He pulls off being a star better than being a great actor and there's nothing wrong with that.

I'll say this much, Olive Carey stole the show as an tough old broad called Miss Vittles.  She was friggin' hilarious and she was also the most genuine and likable character in the movie.  It's almost worth watching it just for her.  Now, if none of this matters to you and you have no interest in seeing this then you need to consider how drop dead gorgeous the location shooting is.  Stunning.  The train scenes were filmed on the railway between Durango and Silverton, Colorado.  I've ridden that line twice in the past 40 years.  It's a half-day trip riding a vintage train from Durango and ending up in Silverton, a 19th Century mining town perched in the mountains.  The ride each way is probably an hour and a half and every inch of it is as beautiful as you can imagine.  If I should ever watch this again, while unlikely, it'll be only because of the beautiful mountain scenery, fueled by decades of fond memories.

The Universal DVD has a good enough, yet often a little dark, anamorphic widescreen print and the sole extra is the theatrical trailer which is non-anamorphic widescreen.

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