Thursday, October 4, 2012

Colorado Me Entertained: "The Man from Colorado" (1949)



This dark little western throws Glenn Ford and William Holden together and addresses the idea of post traumatic stress disorder years before the term was being used.

Glenn Ford is the unbalanced Colonel Owen Devereaux, and William Holden is his best friend and captain Del Stewart. In the opening moments of the film, we know Owen ain't quite been himself. In 1865 Colorado, the men lead an angry bunch of Union soldiers. They corner some Confederates in a gorge, and Owen orders them killed although he sees their surrender flag. After the carnage, Del buries the flag, not knowing Owen saw it. When the soldiers return to camp, they find out the south has given up, but Owen still runs a tight ship, taking drunk night watchman Jericho (James Millican) prisoner for leaving his post to celebrate the war's end.

As the men head back to their hometown, we discover they are both in love with Caroline (Ellen Drew). Caroline has eyes for the dashing Owen, who is hailed a returning hero and promptly made the federal judge of the territory, thanks to the big rich mine owner Carter (Ray Collins). Owen makes Del the federal marshal, and everyone settles in for peacetime life.

Jericho escapes from the camp and takes a willing guard with him, abandoning his little brother Johnny (Jerome Courtland). As Jericho runs over the countryside, Owen still cannot get the taste of killing out of his blood. He is confronted by a Confederate who survived the massacre in the gorge, and Owen kills the weak decrepit man. Owen is called crazy here and there, and reacts violently, writing down all of his worries in a diary he refuses to show anyone else. Owen and Caroline wed, with a beleaguered and suspicious Del skipping the ceremony.

The former soldiers go back to work their gold claims, which have been taken over by Carter. Owen rules with the mine owner. Carter hires some of the men at low wages, but fires them when Jericho and his gang start robbing the gold shipments. Jericho kills a man in a robbery, and Johnny is arrested for the crime. Del goes to warn Jericho, they both head back to save Johnny, but Owen hangs the young man anyway. Now Del is a little mad. He joins Jericho's gang to fight Owen, who is watching his popularity with the town crumble. This sets the final showdown between the two best friends and Jericho in the town, which has been set on fire to draw out the outlaws.

Despite a release date of 1949, Levin's film addresses a lot of issues that are still relevant today. His obvious audience was the post-WWII former soldiers who were still having problems readjusting to civilian life after the horror of war. This is a bold undertaking, considering WWII was such a popular, and populous, war when accounting for the number of men we sent overseas. The film does not take an anti-military stance, it just presents this story without judging too much.

Glenn Ford is astounding as the crazed colonel. He is normally the nice guy in his films, but his cool demeanor and flashing violence are very effective. Holden is good as the hero, and the friendship between the two characters is realistic and natural. Ellen Drew's Caroline might be a bit idealized as the perfect woman, but she shows some nice acting ability when she cannot pick between the two men. The supporting cast do well in their roles, despite some clicheed characters (the mean mining company owner, the kindly doctor, the ignorant enlisted men).

Levin shot this in Technicolor, and the print is appropriately dark and foreboding. He has great standard direction, and the editing is smooth. Aside from the cliches, the script breaks new ground with its psychology of its characters, and the viewer wishes they could have gone even farther in their exploration of Owen's mental illness.

The musical score, by George Duning, is bad. Really bad. This kind of smoldering study is given great big musical cues more akin to a Broadway show. Every line seems to be punctuated by bombastic and showy orchestral product that was the rage then, but unintentionally funny now.

Despite the music, I give "The Man from Colorado" high marks for trying to do something decades before the rest of Hollywood caught up. (* * * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: The Man from Colorado