Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Albuquerque Review

Albuquerque (1948)

Dir. Ray Enright
Starring: Randolph Scott, Barbara Britton, George “Gabby” Hayes, Lon Chaney

Cole Armin (Scott) arrives in the town of Albuquerque planning on going to work for his uncle’s freight company. But when he learns of his uncle’s unscrupulous business practices he goes to work for the honest working competition.

This movie is a fun and good example of the old Hollywood western. Randolph Scott stars as Cole Armin, a former Ranger who is travelling by stagecoach to Albuquerque to work for his uncle. While on route Cole befriends the other passengers on the stagecoach, bandits stop them and rob the passengers of their money.  After arriving in town Cole learns that his uncle was behind the stagecoach robbery in order to stomp out the potential competition. Cole does the right thing and returns the money and buys into the upstart company in order to clean up his family’s name. These actions quickly establish him as a typical western white hat, a decent sort that is always doing the right thing but not afraid to throw a punch or draw his pistol if the situation calls for it. The character is kind of bland, but that’s no fault of Scotts’. He’s surrounded my more colorful and interesting characters, from John Armin (George Cleveland) who gets scenes where he gets to spout of schemes to take out Cole or the competition, the lead goon Murkill (Chaney) that gets to be menacing in a bit of a thankless role, and George “Gabby” Hayes character Juke, that is Cole’s sidekick and comic relief, and the most fun role that the movie offers. He gets a lot of the best lines in the movie, and this film is one that proves why he was one of the best character actors of that period of Hollywood. The brother and sister duo of Celia and Ted Wallace (Catherine Craig and Russell Hayden) are kind of bland and only really serve the plot. You do get the clichéd scene of Cole and Celia bonding while washing dishes, Cole breaking a plate and remarking “Well that’s one less we have to wash”. Ted exists to set up the business and be vexed by Letty, but other than that he doesn’t do much other than get hurt and sit out the last act of the film. George Cleveland gets to play against type, playing the evil John Armin. At this point in his career he was mostly know for nice guys roles in other westerns, and this is a far different role for him, and nothing like his protrayal of Gramps from the Lassie series.

Barbara Britton’s Letty Tyler is interesting though, and her small part is running to steal the film from Gabby’s Juke. Her character is brought to town by John Armin in order to work for and spy on the Wallace-Armin Freight line, but after she starts to fall for Ted and she witnesses how far John Armin is willing to go to take out his competition she has a change of heart and switches sides. This movie is a great use of her, with the nature of her character making a great use of the actress’s beauty and giving her and interesting role. Her part is a bit limited in the film, but she is surprisingly billed over Catherine Craig, who gets more screen time. But the billing really seems more accurate in terms of how well the two actresses play their roles. Craig’s Celia is more of a bland female role that really doesn’t have much to do other than worry about the men and the business, but Letty gets an arc that shows some growth from her character, which starts as a woman out to make a buck and ends as a woman in love that makes the decision to do the right thing, no matter what threats of violence or punishment that John Armin might make to her. 

The film isn’t bad, but it’s not great. It’s got a flat look and most of the scenes have an inert quality where people walk onto screen, recite their lines, then move out of the way for the next speaker. But the action scenes work very well and make up for the shortcomings of the other scenes. The fight between Cole and Murklil is full of the actors giving each other stiff, awkward punches that feels more real than what you would expect from a fight scene from this era. And even the climactic scene of Cole and Juke driving the freight cars down a mountain is exciting because of the characters and actors even though it is mostly close up shots of Scott with some rear projection behind him.  

Probably the most interesting thing about the movie is that it was part of a package of films that Paramount sold to Universal, and due to legal complications it wasn’t shown on television or released onto a home format until it got a DVD release in 2004. By then most people had considered that the film had been lost, which is surprising for a film that isn’t from the silent film. It’s scary to think that once we move into an age of streaming with less emphasis on physical copies, we run the risk of some more obscure films being lost due to them possibly not being popular enough to be picked up by a streaming service, which is sad since streaming offers the possibility of having everything at the click of a button.

This is a decent run of the mill western. There are better Randolph Scott movies, but this one is pretty enjoyable thanks to some entertaining supporting roles and some good action scenes. Medicore is probably the best worst to describe it, but I don’t want to sound dismissive of it, since I did enjoy watching it.

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