My second viewing of the day was Canyon Passage, a 40's western (in Technicolor) directed by Jacques Tourneur (and now I'm realizing it was a Jacques double feature). Tourneur is a favorite of mine almost solely from Out of the Past one of my favorite noirs. I saw this western of his many years ago on TCM (or maybe even AMC when they used to be the classic movie channel), and remembered it fondly as one of the westerns on my short lists of "Westerns I like". I finally picked this up in a very cheap DVD edition that includes 3 other westerns, as it was not available for streaming anywhere. It does not disappoint I think, and, while cleanly fitting into the genre, is nicely different in many ways. For starters, unlike the often open plains and deserts of so many westerns this one takes place in the pacific northwest often amongst forests, providing a much more enclosed space to even the outdoor scenes. The primary town even varies from that classic western town that has a bunch of buildings on a flat straight street, as the town is much less geometrically organized and even is situated on a hill to add some topography to the setting.
There's also nary a cowboy or sherrif in site, though we do get some natives (on which more later), a sick gambler, a rough tough bad guy, a chorus of miners, and various homesteaders. The protagonist (played by Dana Andrews) is the owner of a shipping business, and the primary conflict with the bad guy revolves around something we don't even see happen narratively before the movie starts. But of course, like most westerns, there are themes of the individual versus society (in particular how the town deals with bad elements, there is no lawman in this movie or apparently anywhere in the area) and society vs the wild (in the form of the bad guy, who people describe as animal-like and who also happenes to live outside of town in the woods, as well as the natives).
The treatment of the natives is perhaps even a bit above average for one of these old westerns, as their motivations are not obscured and written off as some kind of inevitability. They don't resent the settlers using the land, but do resent them making buildings and claiming the land as their own. And the big fight that inevitable occurs between the settlers and the natives is set off by the bad guy murdering two native girls (though the clear inference is there is sexual assault too). Though of course the natives as such are never individualized and appear and act with all the stereotypes one can expect.
The movie also has an odd ending that is both depressing and... positive. The progatonist finds some... happiness in the surrounding events of loss and death (and his own financial ruin).
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