Sunday, July 03, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Station West (1948)

I've been wanting to see Dick Powell and Jane Greer in STATION WEST for some time now, so I was delighted when Turner Classic Movies recently showed the movie as part of a tribute to Greer.

I'm happy to say the movie did not disappoint; in fact, I thought it was flat-out terrific. It combines memorable actors with excellent writing, superb location cinematography, and a good musical score to create top-notch entertainment.

The film basically takes Powell's tough guy movie persona of the late '40s and early '50s and drops him in the old West. The sharp, witty script gives Powell plenty of his trademark sarcastic dialogue, including a couple lines that are laugh-out-loud funny; and what's more, Powell's undercover government agent is a credible Western hero. I wish he'd made more films of this type.

Powell plays Lt. John Haven, who arrives in a small frontier town to investigate the murders of two soldiers in a gold heist. Haven's mission is to solve the killings and break up the local crime ring. To that end, he poses as a trouble-making loner as a way to get to know the town's less savory citizens.

Haven quickly meets gorgeous Charlie (Greer), owner of the local saloon; Mark Bristow (Raymond Burr), a nervous lawyer; Mick Marion (Guinn "Big Boy" Williams), Charlie's formidable bouncer; and Mary Caslon (Agnes Moorehead), a widow whose gold is at risk. Powell's real-life best buddy, Regis Toomey, turns up for a couple scenes as a Wells Fargo detective.

The cast also includes Tom Powers, Olin Howlin, Steve Brodie, and Gordon Oliver.

Particularly notable in the fine cast is a relatively young Burl Ives as a quirky singing hotel clerk, whose tunes give the film a wonderful mood, particularly as Powell rides out of town at the end. The melody of the final song continues to linger in my mind. Jane Greer also has a marvelous chance to sing in the film, with "Sometime Remind Me To Tell You." The music for the movie's songs was written by Leigh Harline, the man who wrote the music for Disney's SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937) and PINOCCHIO (1940). Harline joined Mort Green writing the lyrics for Ives' "Stranger in Town," with Green serving as lyricist for the other songs.

I couldn't help musing that it's rather ironic, given the first half of Powell's film career, that he doesn't sing in this tuneful Western noir, but leaves the vocals to Ives and Greer.

Along with the music, the film contains some excellent action sequences. There is a prolonged fistfight between Haven and Mick (Williams) which is absolutely brutal. It's up there with SHANE (1953) as one of the more realistic and interesting fights put on film, other than a brief moment where the filmmakers inexplicably decided to speed up the film.

STATION WEST was directed by Sidney Lanfield, whose diverse credits included Basil Rathbone in THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1939), Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth in YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH (1941), Paulette Goddard and Fred MacMurray in STANDING ROOM ONLY (1944), and Bob Hope in THE LEMON DROP KID (1951).

The movie was beautifully photographed by Harry J. Wild, who regularly worked with Dick Powell on films including MURDER MY SWEET (1944), CORNERED (1945), and PITFALL (1948). Some of the "day for night" scenes shot in Sedona, Arizona, are a bit dark, but they feature amazing rock and cloud formations.

The screenplay by Frank Fenton and Winston Miller was based on a novel by Luke Short.

The print shown on TCM was 80 minutes, which matches Leonard Maltin's reference book; IMDb says the movie should run 87 minutes.

STATION WEST has only been released on DVD as a Region 2 release in Spain.

It was released on VHS as part of the RKO Collection. As I mentioned in my review of FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949), more titles from that excellent VHS series really need to make it to DVD.

Highly recommended.

2014 Update: Here is an account of the experience of seeing this film on a big screen in 35mm.

January 2016 Update: STATION WEST is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive. My February 2016 DVD review may be found here.


Blogger Colin said...

Actually, it's also out on DVD in France from Montparnasse - it was the very first movie I featured on my blog.

Nice write-up Laura.


7:38 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Colin,

Thanks so much for sharing that additional information about the movie's availability on Region 2 DVD!

It's interesting, all 3 of the movies I watched yesterday aren't available on DVD in the U.S., but have had Region 2 releases in Spain.

Thanks for letting me know about your post, I enjoyed it! Really a fun movie.

Best wishes,

9:52 AM  
Blogger Colin said...

And thank you for linking in to it!

There's a lot of RKO stuff out in Europe that's still locked up in the US. Odeon in the UK have been releasing a lot of RKO films with fine transfers lately, much better than their French or Spanish counterparts.


10:24 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

There used to be a terrific series of RKO movies on VHS, which I've alluded to in recent days -- how interesting that Odeon is putting out a lot of their titles. Will have to keep an eye on Amazon.UK. :)

Best wishes,

3:53 PM  

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