Monday, February 18, 2019

Tonight's Movie: El Paso (1949) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

John Payne and Gail Russell star in the Paramount Pictures Western EL PASO (1949), recently released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.

By coincidence this weekend I revisited not one but two John Payne films released in 1949; in addition to EL PASO, which I first reviewed here in 2011, I also saw THE CROOKED WAY (1949) at the UCLA Festival of Preservation. The films were released four months apart, THE CROOKED WAY in April 1949 and EL PASO that August.

In EL PASO Payne plays Clay Fletcher, a lawyer newly returned to Charleston after fighting for the South during the Civil War. Clay heads to El Paso on a legal errand for his grandfather, Judge Fletcher (H.B. Warner), hoping it will also give him the opportunity to reunite with Susan Jeffers (Russell). Clay has fond memories of Susan, who moved away during the war.

Clay discovers Susan's father, a judge (Henry Hull), is kept drunk and ineffective by Bert Donner (Sterling Hayden) and his crony Sheriff La Farge (Dick Foran), who run the town and are plotting to take over local farms. Clay initially deals with the crooks in a court of law, but as they become increasingly violent, he switches to meting out justice with a gun.

The excellent cast also includes a nice turn by Eduardo Noriega as Don Nacho Vazquez, an ethical man who comes to Clay's aid and later trains him to use a gun. Familiar faces such as Gabby Hayes, Mary Beth Hughes, Catherine Craig (Mrs. Robert Preston), Arthur Space, Bobby Ellis, Steven Geray, Lane Chandler, and Don Haggerty fill out the large cast.

Despite a great group of actors, it must be admitted that EL PASO is a fairly sludgy 103 minutes. It starts out fairly well, as Clay arrives in El Paso and meets Susan and Vazquez, and the first hour or so is relatively entertaining. As the plot becomes increasingly dark, the final 30 or 40 minutes slow to a crawl, relieved only by a very well-staged climactic gun fight during a dust storm.

Payne and Russell do a nice job with what they have to work with, though Russell's role tends to fade into the woodwork a bit in the last half of the film. Payne's motivations are well laid out, but the script does Hayden no favors. While Hayden is typically excellent in Westerns, he's surprisingly bland here in an underwritten role. The movie would have benefited from editing to pare down the slow-moving story yet at the same time could have used more character development for Payne's chief adversary.

EL PASO was directed by Lewis R. Foster from his own screeplay, based on a story by Gladys Atwater and J. Robert Bren. It was filmed in Cinecolor by Ellis W. Carter.

Having previously seen EL PASO in a very iffy print, I was delighted to have the chance to see it again in such good condition. A couple of scenes early on have some streaks, but most of the film looks excellent. The Cinecolor print I previously saw looked quite muddy and brown, but this print is much more attractive, bringing out the best in Cinecolor's unique look. The print is described by Kino Lorber as a "brand-new HD master from a 4K scan of the 35mm original 2-color negative & positive separation."

Extras include a commentary track by Toby Roan, who is always an informative pleasure to listen to, and a Kino Lorber Westerns trailer gallery. The case also includes reversible cover art.

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

2 Comments:

Blogger Lyson said...

Just bought this KL Blu-RaY and having watched Gail Russell last week in one of my favorites - Angel & The Badman will look forward to watching El Paso this coming weekend. I'm also a big John Payne fan so even if the movie is "sludgy" I'll make the best of it!

5:32 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you enjoy it! If you like the cast it should prove worthwhile even if not their best work. The movie has probably not looked this good since its release!

ANGEL AND THE BADMAN is probably my all-time favorite John Wayne film.

Best wishes,
Laura

11:38 PM  

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