Saturday, January 16, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Colorado Territory (1949)

Time for another review of a film seen from my 2015 10 Classics list!

With COLORADO TERRITORY (1949), director Raoul Walsh loosely remade his own film HIGH SIERRA (1941), which had starred Humphrey Bogart. In this Western telling, Joel McCrea stars as outlaw Wes McQueen.

Movies about outlaws are my least favorite kind of Western, as they inevitably come to a bad end, but I wanted to finally see COLORADO TERRITORY because of the film's fine reputation and my admiration for McCrea. And I must say that as outlaw movies go, COLORADO TERRITORY is top drawer; it's superbly acted, fast paced, and beautifully shot (by Sid Hickox) in striking locations.

As the movie opens, McQueen is busted out of jail. He doesn't really seem a bad sort, carrying a torch for his lost love Martha and protecting Julie Ann Winslow (Dorothy Malone) during an attack on their stagecoach, but it also becomes clear he's an experienced outlaw.

McQueen agrees to rob a train with Reno (John Archer) and Duke (James Mitchell), which they plan while hiding out in an abandoned town. Also hanging around is Colorado (Virginia Mayo), who becomes attracted to the comparatively gallant Wes.

Wes plans for the train robbery to be the proverbial "one last job," and he dreams of settling down with Julie Ann, not realizing she's not quite the nice girl he idealizes. Colorado, meanwhile, proves her loyalty to Wes time and again...right up till the bitter end.

The movie struck me as an interesting flip side to McCrea's FOUR FACES WEST (1948), in which his desperate cowboy, Ross McEwen, robs a bank but has a chance at redemption. Wes McQueen seems at heart to have had the same inner decency as McEwen, but he's too far gone and his dreams of a better, more decent life come too late in the game, heartbreakingly captured by McCrea's regretful performance. Both films also share in common wonderful black and white location shooting, including in New Mexico.

In addition to being a longtime fan of McCrea, I've become quite an admirer of Virgina Mayo, who was my most-watched actress of 2014. Mayo had a great year in 1949, giving what might be her two best performances, both for director Raoul Walsh, in COLORADO TERRITORY and WHITE HEAT (1949). She has a great entrance in COLORADO TERRITORY, brushing her hair and then flipping it back and looking up. In each film she's the companion to an outlaw or gangster, but the parts, and her performances, couldn't be more different. She's stunningly tough as Colorado, leading to an ending which, as my friend Blake Lucas has described, is tragic yet also quite beautiful.

Dorothy Malone is also fine as the outwardly sweet-looking Julie Ann, who hates living in the southwest and dreams of returning to her love "back home," whether he'll marry her or not. Gradually she reveals the layers of a manipulative, unhappy woman.

I also liked James Mitchell as the educated outlaw Duke. The following year he would again play opposite McCrea in STARS IN MY CROWN (1950). Mitchell was an interesting actor, veering from straight dramatic parts to dancing roles.

I especially admired the film's fast 94-minute pace, which always kept things interesting and didn't give me time to dwell on the inevitable ending. The screenplay by John Twist and Edmund H. North was loosely based on W.R. Burnett's HIGH SIERRA.

The superb supporting cast also includes Basil Ruysdael, Henry Hull, Ian Wolfe, Morris Ankru, Harry Woods, Frank Puglia, Houseley Stevenson, and Oliver Blake. David Buttolph contributed a good score.

COLORADO TERRITORY is available on DVD from the Warner Archive. It's a fine print, and the DVD includes the trailer.

Just a couple reviews left to post to wrap up my thoughts on my 2015 list!


Blogger Kristina said...

Looks good, I was curious about this, and now after reading your other linked reviews I also want to see STARS and FOUR FACES. Looks like a mini Joel fest is in my future.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Kristina, if you watch this trio of McCrea films I feel confident you'll be a very satisfied viewer. I'd love to read your takes on each of these movies and hope you have the chance to see them soon!

Best wishes,

6:17 PM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

"Colorado Territory" works better than "High Sierra" for me. Walsh really knew what he was doing, and it is there on the screen.

8:44 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

So glad you have now seen and enjoyed this classic western, Laura. It is not a comfortable watch at the end, which you know is inevitable, but Walsh is hugely successful in making you care and bringing off such a brilliantly successful remake.

I can only second your recommendation to Kristina for those three terrific McCrea movies - three of his very best!

5:51 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Caftan Woman, I've only seen portions of HIGH SIERRA -- maybe that should be on my 2017 list to see! -- hence my lack of comparison here. The scenes I did see with Ida Lupino and Lone Pine were striking. Interested to get your feedback!

Thanks, Jerry! Glad you added your recommendation for Kristina, she has some great viewing ahead!

Best wishes,

11:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Delighted to hear you've seen this film, and more importantly, enjoyed it. For me, it tops High Sierra and has a deeper resonance. The setting helps of course, but the pairing of Mayo and McCrea is a big part of it too. I agree with both yours and Blake's assessment of the ending - it's tragic but beautiful, there's a poetic quality to it that stays with you and tugs gently at your heart.


2:07 PM  
Blogger Biograph Consulting said...

Hi Laura: In lauding Joel McCrea as an action hero, folks often forget what a consummate comedian he could be, if given the right material and director. One shouldn't miss a pair of films he did for Preston Sturges, The Palm Beach Story, contemplating divorce from the elegantly funny Claudette Colbert and the classic Sullivan's Travels, in which he pairs with Veronica Lake; both are sophisticated comedies with the rare combination of heart and wit.

3:20 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Colin, thank you so much for your comment, loved your thoughts on the film.

B. C., thank you as well for your thoughts on Joel McCrea. He really could do it all -- Westerns, suspense, comedies. His comedies THE PALM BEACH STORY and THE MORE THE MERRIER are not only two of my favorite Joel McCrea films, they're two of my favorite movies ever.

Best wishes,

11:19 PM  

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