RAILS INTO LARAMIE is quite a good standard-issue '50s Western, alternating witty dialogue, some well-done action sequences, and an interesting twist or two in its fast-paced 80 minutes. It also has the bonus of being a Universal Western, with beautiful Technicolor opening credits and a typically deep Universal cast. I enjoyed it very much.
Jefferson Harder (John Payne) is a bullheaded, tough Army sergeant assigned to a special detail in Laramie. His mission is to find out what's behind lack of progress on the railroad in the area and push it towards completion.
When Jeff arrives in Laramie he discovers an old friend, Jim Shanessy (Dan Duryea), owns the hotel and saloon and has financial reasons for not wanting the railroad to be completed. Jim tries to buy Jeff off, to no avail, and the battle lines are drawn between town tamer and town boss. Lou (Mari Blanchard), Jim's partner in the saloon, is disturbed by her partner's tactics and quietly sets out to help Jeff.
Payne is given some very good quips, making his character sort of a cross between a hard-edged sarcastic noir type character and a more lighthearted James Garner type. When a nervous hotel clerk (Hal K. Dawson) asks the unorthodox Jeff why he's not in Army uniform, Jeff laconically replies "I deserted," then marches off to do his job. My favorite moment was when Jeff tells the Doc (Roy Butler) to take a body to the undertaker, and then tosses off the line "And tell him to stay open!"
The plot includes an interesting twist making use of laws guaranteeing women's equality in 1860s Wyoming, an angle also explored in Loretta Young's THE LADY FROM CHEYENNE (1941). In this case the men of the town are so cowed by Duryea and his goons that they won't convict them of any crimes. But when the brave ladies of the town insist on serving as jurors, the outcome is quite different.
The large cast includes Joyce MacKenzie (DESTINATION MURDER) as Jim's devious, devoted wife and Lee Van Cleef as one of his trigger-happy henchmen. There's a very nice performance by James Griffith as the town marshal, who serves as Jeff's nervous yet loyal right-hand man. Griffith had over 200 credits between 1948 and 1984. Another actor with an even longer list of credits, George Chandler, plays one of the cowardly townsmen. Other actors in the film with scores of credits to their names include Myron Healey, Douglas Kennedy, and Harry Shannon.
Mari Blanchard was born in nearby Long Beach, California, in 1923. According to her biography at IMDb, she studied international law at the University of Southern California, but instead became a model and actress. Her film credits included two other 1954 films opposite great Western stars: BLACK HORSE CANYON with Joel McCrea and DESTRY opposite Audie Murphy. Her final film was John Wayne's MCLINTOCK! (1963). Sadly she was just 47 when she died of cancer in 1970.
RAILS INTO LARAMIE was directed by Jesse Hibbs. The screenwriters included D.D. Beauchamp and the uncredited Borden Chase, both of whom worked on many good Westerns over the years.
RAILS INTO LARAMIE is currently in the movie rotation at Encore Westerns Channel, where it will be shown again this week, on November 28th, as well as next January 17th.