Sunday, February 28, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Sierra Passage (1951) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

I've been enjoying watching Wayne Morris Monogram films this month!

Having previously reviewed DESERT PURSUIT (1952) and ARCTIC FLIGHT (1952), today I watched SIERRA PASSAGE (1951), another Morris film just released by the Warner Archive.

SIERRA PASSAGE costars Lola Albright and Alan Hale Jr., who also appeared in ARCTIC FLIGHT. I enjoyed all three films but I'd rank SIERRA PASSAGE as my favorite.

A trio of bad men led by Yance Carter (Hale) gun down rancher Jud Yorke (Jim Bannon of I LOVE A MYSTERY) in cold blood. Yorke's son Johnny (Billy Gray) is taken in by a pair of kindly men who happen upon the murder scene, traveling minstrel show owner Thad Kring (Lloyd Corrigan) and his star sharpshooter Sam Cooper (Roland Winters).

Johnny grows up (now portrayed by Morris) and stars alongside Sam in the show's sharpshooting act, but everywhere they travel, Johnny is looking for the men who killed his father. When singer Ann Walker (Albright) joins the show and falls in love with Johnny, she tries to persuade him to give up the hunt, which is tearing him up inside, but he's spent too many years on his quest to be willing to stop, even for lovely Ann...

I won't say how it ends, but it's well-written and satisfying.

SIERRA PASSAGE has a particularly good script for a film of its type, written by Tom Blackburn and Sam Roeca. It was based on a story by actor-screenwriter Warren Douglas, billed here as Warren D. Wandburg. This was Douglas's initial foray into screenwriting; his later writing credits included the screenplays for excellent films such as LOOPHOLE (1954) and DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE (1957).

The film also benefits from some very nice turns by Corrigan and Winters as the men who raise Johnny; their colorful, sympathetic characters add a great deal to the film, making it not just your ordinary "son seeking revenge" Western. There's a touching scene where Thad and Sam must say farewell due to Sam's retirement, and they muse on how they have become family.

Also adding to the film is the lovely Lola Albright, who has the chance to sing three tunes. (She's also made up much more nicely than in ARCTIC FLIGHT.) She's very likeable as a woman who, like Johnny, is an orphan trying to survive; before long she finds that she has also been taken under the wing of Thad and Sam, becoming part of their theatrical family.

The more I see of Morris, the more he's growing on me. I've really been enjoying spending time with his movies this month. There's one more of his new Warner Archive Western releases which will be reviewed soon, THE DESPERADO (1954).

The SIERRA PASSAGE cast also includes Paul McGuire, Richard Karlan, Edward Clark, and George Eldredge. John Doucette has about two seconds on screen before he's gunned down in a card game gone bad.

As a side note, some viewers may wish to know in advance that since the film is historically accurate in its portrayal of minstrel show entertainment of the 1800s, characters at times perform in blackface.

SIERRA PASSAGE was directed by Frank McDonald and filmed in black and white by William Sickner. It runs 81 minutes.

Once again the Archive has released a Morris Monogram film in a very nice, crisp print. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


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