Sunday, January 07, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Four Faces West (1948) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Just before Christmas Kino Lorber released the very special Western FOUR FACES WEST (1948) on both Blu-ray and DVD.

FOUR FACES WEST is a relatively unsung film which has seen its reputation growing in recent years as more classic film fans become acquainted with it. Hopefully the new Kino Lorber release will lead even more viewers to see this exquisite film. This tale of redemption is one of those movies which only improves on further viewings.

The movie stars real-life husband and wife Joel McCrea and Frances Dee, with superb supporting performances by Joseph Calleia and Charles Bickford.

McCrea plays Ross McEwen, a good man who does a bad thing: Desperate to get needed cash to his father, he robs a bank -- though he leaves an IOU!

Ross hops a westbound train, with lawman Pat Garrett (Bickford) on his trail. On the train Ross meets Fay Hollister (Dee), a nurse headed to work at a hospital in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Fay senses Ross is in trouble and wants to help, but he can't quite bring himself to confide in her.

Ross and Fay are quietly watched over by mysterious Monte Marquez (Calleia), and the three passengers all get off in Alamogordo. Ross gets a job and is able to repay some of the money he stole, but soon enough Garrett arrives in New Mexico...

As I wrote when I first reviewed the movie here back in 2009, an outline of the plot really doesn't do it justice. This Western -- which some say is the only Western without a shot fired -- has an excellent, unpredictable script and a quartet of charismatic lead performances. I find it also has a unique, almost spiritual, mood; it simply needs to be experienced firsthand.

Having had the privilege of visiting Joel McCrea and Frances Dee's home, McCrea Ranch, on several occasions, hearing about their life together there and seeing its relative simplicity, makes watching this film all the sweeter. I love all of their interactions, especially the scene where Ross brings Fay a ring, which he carefully puts on her left ring finger. McCrea and Dee had been married 15 years at this point but onscreen their performances capture the magic of first love, and one feels -- hopes -- that we might also perhaps be glimpsing a bit of the real people behind the characters.

McCrea and Dee were married for 57 years, with Joel passing away on their wedding anniversary in 1990.

Calleia is special in this as a man who seems almost Heaven-sent right when Ross needs a friend. Bickford is also excellent as the legendary Garrett, who wants to get his man but who is also fair and just.

As noted in my previous post on the film, FOUR FACES WEST was one of several excellent redemption-themed Westerns released in 1947-48. Another of those films, YELLOW SKY (1948), is also available from Kino Lorber. Other must-see redemption-themed Westerns of this era are ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947), RAMROD (1947), and BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948).

FOUR FACES WEST was sensitively, even stylishly directed by Alfred E. Green. The script by C. Graham Baker and Teddi Sherman was adapted by William and Milarde Brent from the novel PASO POR AQUI by Eugene Manlove Rhodes. The film runs 89 minutes.

Russell Harlan photographed the movie in black and white; Harlan's credits include classics such as RIO BRAVO (1959) and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962). The movie was shot on location in New Mexico, as well as California's Red Rock Canyon.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray print of FOUR FACES WEST is excellent.

The lone extra is a gallery of seven Western trailers, though not one for FOUR FACES WEST. I believe all of the films seen in the trailers are available from Kino Lorber.

Highly recommended.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

I'll add my highest recommendation for this classic western too, Laura! Even folks who are not really western fans would probably enjoy this film. McCrea at his absolute finest!

The photography of Russell Harlan is a big plus, of course. His work on "DAY OF THE OUTLAW", "THE LAST HUNT" and "RED RIVER" was outstanding also. His earliest work was a whole raft of Hopalong Cassidy westerns, often filmed in stunning locations including Lone Pine, and his work on those really raised them above the ordinary. One of the 'greats'.

3:37 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much, Jerry! I hope our encouragement will persuade anyone who's not seen this special film to give it a try.

Thanks as well for adding more info on Harlan's career. Seeing RED RIVER in 35mm on a huge screen was a highlight of 2017 movies for me! I will be reviewing the Warner Archive THE LAST HUNT soon. I also have DAY OF THE OUTLAW in my "watch" stack. Lots of great-looking movies ahead. :)

Best wishes,

9:41 AM  
Blogger SimpleGifts said...

Thank you, Laura! Let's hope Kino Lorber's excellent release of FOUR FACES WEST and your thoughtful review will bring more viewers to this gem of a movie. Perhaps, too, both will bring more visitors to the McCrea Ranch where Joel and Frances' grandson Wyatt told you the couple rehearsed this film in the living room! Best, Jane

1:32 PM  
Blogger Kristina Dijan said...

Love this one, such a sincere, heartwarming uplifting movie, wonderful characters and memorable performances. One little moment I love in this was Calleia's way of keeping the little brat quiet :D
Eager to read your thoughts THE LAST HUNT, I was so impressed by Robert Taylor's work in it.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jane, I love thinking that Joel and Frances said lines from this movie right where I've stood. :) I hope more people will learn that McCrea Ranch is available to visit and take advantage of that opportunity!!

Kristina, delighted to know you like this one too, you describe it so well. Yes, that bit with Calleia was great. :)

I suppose I may find THE LAST HUNT a tough watch in some respects but as a big fan of the underrated Taylor I need to see his performance in it!

Best wishes,

11:21 PM  

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