#96: Canyon Passage (Jacques Tourneur, 1946)
I've got to thank the great Dave Kehr for making me aware of this overlooked gem. After seeing a majority of the popular and heralded films from 1930-1959, Kehr's essential but sadly now defunct DVD release column for the NYT became a great source for rarer classic film recommendations. CANYON PASSAGE is something I immediately sought out based on Kehr's glowing review, and it has been a favorite Western of mine ever since.
There's a lot to love here. It's Tourneur's first color film in addition to being his first western. As you'd imagine anything Tourneur in technicolor to be – it's absolutely stunning. The colors just glow with saturation and warmth. And as the lone western made in the transitional years between his horror work for Val Lewton and his successful shift to film noir, its as unusual a western as you'd imagine it to be. With it's opening shots of pouring rain and mud, CANYON PASSAGE instantly distinguishes itself from the sun-drenched aridity of most westerns. And as the story unfolds, it continues to subvert our expectations of a what a western should in the year 1946 – well before the word “revisionist” would be brandied about to describe similarly ambivalent westerns. There's a dense plot to wade through that purposefully offers little resolution. It's not a film about finding stability through righteousness or taming a previously ungovernable wilderness but about head-scratching your way through the moral uneasiness of western expansion. It's filled with these off-hand philosophical one-liners that constantly call into question not only the legitimacy of manifest destiny but the very nature of civilization. Its also got one of the best fist fights ever to not feature Victor McLaglen.
Stats: One of two Tourneur movies on here.
Happy Birthday Mike! And RIP Robert Osborne....will truly miss him.