Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Night Passage

Night Passage (1957)
Dir. James Neilson
Starring: James Stewart, Audie Murphy, Dan Duryea

Disgraced ex-railroad employee Grant McLaine (Stewart) gets tasked by his former employer to deliver the company's payroll after a series of robberies committed by a gang led by Whitey Harbin (Duryea) and the Utica Kid (Murphy).

This was supposed to be another Stewart/Anthony Mann collaboration, but Mann disagreed with the casting of Audie Murphy and choose not to participate.There is also some speculation that they disagreed with Stewart's character playing the accordion in the film, but I don't know how true that is. But the accordion scenes are fun. Stewart played the instrument from a young age, and while he played the songs during filming, the music was re-dubbed by someone else later in post production. There's a couple of scenes where Stewart is flirting with girls half his age, which reminded me of Roger Moore in his later Bond movies.

Borden Chase wrote this film. It's a pretty solid script, but the last half is better than the first. The movie does move along fairly quickly, never seeming like it is dragging or just killing time. Stewart's character is named Grant. His brother the Utica Kid's name is Lee. And they are on opposite sides of the conflict of the movie. Subtle. That's about as deep as the script gets.

Stewart is good as the lead, which is to be expected since at this point he was an old pro that knew what he was doing. Audie Murphy isn't bad as the Utica Kid, but he's not amazing either. Allegedly one of the other things that pushed Anthony Mann to drop out of the film is that he couldn't believe that Stewart and Murphy could convincingly play brothers, since Murphy was maybe a foot shorter than Stewart. But that didn't bother me while watching it. And it's got the kid from Shane, the tragically short lived Brandon De Wilde, in the film, and his scenes with Stewart are fun. They mostly get to bond while he plays the accordion, so if you hate the accordion you might not agree with me.

One of the best things about the movie is the female leads, Dianne Foster as Charlie Drew and Elaine Stewart* as Verna Kimball. Verna is a former love of Stewart's character and now the wife of his employer. But she is strong willed and even though she gets taken hostage she still comes across as a strong character who is interesting to watch. Foster's Charlie is in love with the Utica Kid, who refuses to marry her while he is still living the bandit lifestyle. She is pretty proactive in the film and even does a good job assisting Grant during the shootout at the end of the picture.

This is a pretty fun movie, but it's a pretty good example of a typical Hollywood western from the fifties. I don't think that it would be better had Mann directed it, but as it is it's good. Great cinematography. It's worth checking out if you're bored and it's available to you.

* The 2 Stewarts in the film aren't related. 

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