Sunday, May 16, 2021

Albuquerque (1948)

Director: Ray Enright                                    Writers: Gene Lewis & Clarence Young
Film Score: Darrell Calker                             Cinematography: Fred Jackman Jr.
Starring: Randolph Scott, Barbara Britton, Gabby Hayes and Lon Chaney Jr.

Another of Randolph Scott’s great westerns from his middle period--this one directed by Ray Enright at Paramount--Albuquerque is a Cinecolor production from the novel of the same name by Luke Short. Enright, who had been directing films since the late twenties, helmed a string of westerns in the forties, a few of them with Scott, and so he was an old hand at this stuff by now. The credits roll over Darrell Calker’s rousing music, with a stagecoach in the distance growing ever nearer. The color is gorgeous, a lot less garish than Technicolor, and the red of the soil, the snow on the mountains, and the green of the trees is a wonder to behold. The opening scene, however, with Gabby Hayes as the driver and Lee White providing a little comedy, is disappointingly done with rear projection. When the scene shifts to the interior of the coach, Randolph Scott is entertaining Karolyn Grimes with a Señor Wences talking-hand bit. Also onboard are Catherine Craig and Lorin Raker. Naturally, bandits force the coach to stop to rob it. But when guns fire and Raker is killed, the coach takes off with Grimes inside and Scott hops on one of the bandit’s horses and saves the day. But the chase is a little disorienting to watch. Every time the natural exteriors are onscreen it’s breathtaking, and then the rear screen ruins the effect. The other issue with the photography later on is the rather obvious day-for-night shooting, which is also unfortunate.

Once the group makes it to town Gabby alerts the sheriff, Grimes is reunited with her father, and Craig gives the bad news to her brother that all their money was stolen. Then Scott finds out he’s not welcome there because he’s related to George Cleveland, the man who runs the town and everyone hates. Turns out Sheriff Bernard Nedell works for Cleveland, and so do the bandits that robbed Craig’s money. Cleveland’s head honcho is none other than a tired looking Lon Chaney Jr. Cleveland wants Scott to run his hauling operation for the mines in the hills and pass the business on to him. At first Scott is flattered. But at the local saloon he spies the bandits, and sees Chaney running them out, sort of friendly like. Scott is also suspicious of the sheriff. Then everything becomes clear when he learns that Cleveland’s primary competitors hauling freight for the mines are Craig and her brother, Russell Hayden. And it takes even less time for Scott to get their money back from Cleveland and offer his services to the two of them. So the film sets itself up as a conflict between Scott and his new friends, against his evil uncle and his corrupt business. Scott naturally takes a liking to Craig, but unfortunately Hayden falls all over himself for Barbara Britton when she turns up in town.

It’s a solid film, sitting squarely in the tradition, and it doesn’t disappoint. Scott is dependable as the white hat, and his supporting cast does a nice job as well. Catherine Craig is lovely as the love interest, tough and patient, while Gaby Hayes plays the exact same salty sidekick he’d been playing since the early thirties. Barbara Britton was new to me, but she gives a great performance as well. The only disappointment is that Lon Chaney Jr. wasn’t used more, or at least to better effect, as he was capable of giving a tremendous performance when given the chance. Of course Karolyn Grimes is most familiar to film audiences as little Zuzu Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. And another recognizable face from the same film is Dick Elliott who shows up as a cook. But George Cleveland is no Lionel Barrymore, and he’s a little too tame as the wheel-chaired villain. The most notable thing about the picture, though, is how fantastic the photography is. Not only the exteriors and the color print, but the long focus work and the moving camera close ups by cinematographer Fred Jackman Jr. are outstanding. The issues with rear projection and day-for-night aside, it’s a fantastic looking film. The score by Calker is more than serviceable, if fairly generic, though the set design goes a little overboard trying to stress the New Mexico locale. It’s a familiar story, especially some seventy years later, but it does have some unique plot points that might even have been better had they not been telegraphed to the audience ahead of time. Albuquerque is nothing out of the ordinary, but is a fun film that delivers on all genre expectations.

No comments:

Post a Comment