DATELINE: Horse Opera Noir
In 1949 flamboyant director Raoul Walsh remade his classic film High Sierra as a western. Instead of Humphrey Bogart in a star spin, he chose Joel McCrae as the prison escapee who is called upon to lead a train robbery in this odd version.
The biggest drawback of the film is McCrae who is never scary, but all the characters quake in his presence.
Walsh made his great psycho crime drama White Heat around the same time with James Cagney and Steve Cochran. Either one of those actors would have brought enough menace to the role of Wes McQueen to bring the picture into the darker realms of Western Noir.
The film’s title Colorado Territory is a little misleading, as the story is not set in Colorado. In fact, Colorado is the name of the half-breed Indian prostitute played by Virginia Mayo (also a Raoul Walsh favorite from White Heat) with appropriate heavy tanned make-up. She is her usual voluptuous, but sordid, floozie. She is no man’s land. Well, no man’s Colorado Territory.
The film contains a number of familiar faces from movies and TV of the 1950s. You’ll recognize so many of them. But you won’t know any of their names. They are a great cast of second bananas.
The film is one of those post-World War II films that entertained audiences cynical from the war years. Don’t expect happy endings. We don’t think we are spoiling anything because you know how these things must turn out.
The film features unusual characterizations, including a loquacious young man played by James Mitchell. He has no interest in Virginia Mayo and is never McCrae’s rival, but he pontificates with a gay lilt in his voice voice. It’s rather unexpected, but shows a modern sensibility, giving the film part of its strange appeal.
Overall, the film is low-rent Colorado territory. It’s a shame because it could have been so much more than drive-in double-bill material.