Canyon Passage (1946)

25 09 2008

Now this, on the other hand, was really fantastic. I expect a film this great out of Tourneur at this point, but I would never expect one of his films to be great in the same manner as this one is. For one, it has beautiful, albeit very early, technicolor compositions. Undoubtedly a gimmick on paper, but plays in so well with the atmosphere. The character dynamics are some of the most refreshing I’ve seen in a western in a long time. Ultimately, the film doesn’t quite live up to the amount of emotional depth implied at the very start, but it definitely comes close and it’s an entertaining ride along the way.

Dana Andrews plays an experienced drifter, Logan Stuart, who gets caught up in a love triangle with his best friend and said friend’s wife-to-be. This friend is George Camarose, a long-time gambler, who has (in contrast to Logan) stayed in Oregon for a long time. Stuart is transporting George’s long time lover, Lucy Overmine to Oregon for something of a reunion. Contrary to so many of the westerns I’ve seen as of late, the main romantic interest here does not lie between a passive man and resistant women, but rather between two people who already know each other to begin with. In addition, the women here is neither naive or entirely committed to her original romantic interest. From the very beginning, there is a sense that Lucy’s interest in George is beginning to die down.

It is at this point that her interest in Logan is on the rise, but any plans the two have for running off together are put on hold. We are introduced to Logan’s long-time friend Ben Dance, played by Andy Devine in one of his more likable performances. Caroline Marsh, another romantic interest of Logan’s, lives in the Dance household. Needless to say, things are pretty complicated at this point, but what is so impressive about the film is that these complications all come from the characters’ relationships rather than any overarching plot. It is only towards the end that the half-assed story involving angry Indians attacking villages come to the surface.

Instead, there’s plenty of great relationship problems and characters who seem to serve no purpose. The latter element may seem like an insult, but the addition of several “minor” characters adds to the film’s very free and loose feeling, as well as that perfect Americana sensibility that Tourneur seems to comprehend better than anyone else. A perfect example is Ward Bond’s character, who can, by default, be labeled as a villian. Of course, it probably helps that Bond himself is one of the most fascinating actors of all time, but his limited screen time seems to imply that Tourneur perfectly mapped out this world from the inside out.

The technicolor cinematography is another great addition, even if it takes some time to get use to it. Tourneur is definitely not the sort of director I would think of as being particularly successful in color, if only due to the defiance of the black-and-white in Out of the Past. Here, though, there is a similar beauty that is perfectly translated into the realm of technicolor. This is much more than just a colorized version of Tourneur’s usual aesthetic. There’s some touches (such as the seemingly random glows of red) that don’t work well with the inherent saturation of early technicolor stock, but even then I feel like condoning Tourneur just for trying something different.

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One response

24 01 2011
Toby

Like lots of folks, I came to Jacques Tourneur through Out Of The Past and those incredible Lewton pictures. But lately I’ve really been enjoying his Westerns.

The thing that always knocks me for a loop is where he places his camera. That shot of Andrews and Ward Bond at the bar is a great example. And his use of color can be every bit as effective as his B&W stuff.

Great post.

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