Friday, May 08, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Along the Great Divide (1951) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

The Raoul Walsh Western ALONG THE GREAT DIVIDE (1951) is available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Kirk Douglas and Virginia Mayo lead a strong cast in this 88-minute film. The story, which is not at all conveyed by the pretty yet meaningless title, concerns an upright federal marshal, Len Merrick (Douglas).

Merrick and his two deputies (John Agar and Ray Teal) rescue Pop Keith (Walter Brennan) from a lynch mob headed by Ed Roden (Morris Ankrum). Roden is convinced that Keith murdered his son.

Merrick assures Roden that Keith will have a fair jury trial and hang if he's convicted, but that's not good enough for Roden, who chases the marshal's traveling party, which eventually also includes Keith's daughter Ann (Mayo). Eventually Merrick captures Roden's son Dan (James Anderson) to ensure he can get Keith to a judge, but even then the relentless Roden poisons water along the trail.

Gradually the light dawns on Merrick that the wrong man may be charged with the killing, pitting true justice against following the letter of the law.

It's well known among regular readers that I'm not a Kirk Douglas fan, but I really enjoyed this film and thought he was fine; the arrogance which seeps through into most of of the Douglas performances I've seen was blessedly missing here.

It would be interesting to know if the director or the fact that this was Douglas's first Western had any impact on how he comes across on screen, or perhaps it was simply how he approached the role, but while I found his personality almost unbearable in his next two Westerns, THE BIG TREES (1952) and THE INDIAN FIGHTER (1955), I had no issues with him here. It's a well-modulated performance in which he plays a reasonable man working to overcome a troubled past, and I found him more emotionally engaging than in his other films.

Virginia Mayo had previously turned in two of her best performances for director Walsh in WHITE HEAT (1949) and COLORADO TERRITORY (1949), and she also worked with him in CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER R.N. (1951), which has been on my "to see" list for too long! She is again very good here as Brennan's tomboyish devoted daughter.

The excellent cast of pros serve the film well, although I was admittedly surprised by some plot turns which eliminated actors from the story earlier than I expected!

The classic Western theme of a party of disparate travelers attacked by outside forces receives an excellent spin here. The screenplay by Walter Doniger and Louis Meltzer, from Doniger's story, is well plotted, with just enough foreshadowing that the ultimate twist at the finale makes sense.

Best of all, the film makes superb use of locations in the Alabama Hills and other areas around Lone Pine, California. There are occasional exteriors shot in a soundstage, but for the most part the exteriors were filmed in the great outdoors, beautifully framed in black and white by cinematographer Sid Hickox.

I'd love to take a locations tour for this film at a future Lone Pine Film Festival. Many of the locations seen were familiar to me, and I'm pretty certain I've stood where a number of the scenes were shot on past tours.

ALONG THE GREAT DIVIDE was one of the original Warner Archive releases when the company first went into business back in March 2009. Although the first Warner Archive films were released "as is," without restoration work, the picture and sound quality of this film are both excellent -- which could well be why it was one of the first releases. Over the years the Warner Archive replaced the original plain blue cover with more attractive movie poster cover art.

There are no extras on the disc.

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 or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger john k said...

Hi Laura,
Nice to see you review an older Warner Archive release.
It's also good that Warner Archive are still releasing Westerns,I'm still waiting for my copy of BLOOD ON THE MOON to arrive which obviously is delayed due to the current situation. Cannot wait to get my hands on that one. Recently from Warner Archive I received ACTION OF THE TIGER which I thoroughly enjoyed but was surprised by the nudity early on in the film-it would seem Warner Archive got hold of an export strength print-somewhat weird to see nudity in a 50's MGM Van Johnson film. The Archive's restoration of ACTION OF THE TIGER is stellar lovely scenery and a total must for Johnson fans.
I loved Douglas in THE INDIAN FIGHTER a role perfect for him. Never seen THE BIG TREES and understand he only did the film so Warners would release him from their contract. I love Douglas in Westerns.In his autobiography Kirk says that he never got on with Raoul Walsh and according to him horses were mis- treated on that film.The Raoul Walsh Western I really want on Blu Ray is COLORADO TERRITORY I hope that it's a work in progress.

7:50 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi John!

Thanks so much, good to hear from you! I'm also awaiting a copy of BLOOD ON THE MOON and will be reviewing it here along with RACHEL AND THE STRANGER, which has already arrived.

How interesting about ACTION OF THE TIGER. That was a film I'd not heard of before it's recent release.

Interesting to hear Douglas's thoughts on Walsh, especially given that I found Douglas easier to watch in this film. COLORADO TERRITORY would be great for a Blu-ray. :)

Best wishes,

9:51 AM  

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