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Canyon Passage, In 1856, backwoods businessman Logan Stuart escorts Lucy Overmire, his friend’s fiancée, back home to remote Jacksonville, Oregon; in the course of the hard journey, Lucy is attracted to Logan, whose heart seems to belong to another. Once arrived in Jacksonville, a welter of subplots involve villains, fair ladies, romantic triangles, gambling fever, murder, a cabin-raising, and vigilantism…culminating with an Indian uprising that threatens all the settlers. No canyon in sight.
Ahead of its time
Canyon Passage, Colorful and vivid, Canyon Passage is crammed full of plots and subplots. It starts out looking like a family movie about pioneers in Oregon, but develops into a complex story with several key characters, the most important being Logan Stewart (Dana Andrews) a mule train outfitter whose business partner is compulsive gambler George Camrose (Brian Donlevy). Set mostly in a mining town, with settlers clearing the adjacent land for farms and wary native Americans watching their territory disappearing, it is a story that weaves together hit rich quick miners, gambling, pioneering, and a significant romance that brews between Camrose’s girl Lucy Overmire (Susan Hayward) and Stewart, with Camrose piling on gambling debts and pilfering the till to pay them off. The precarious peace with the Indians is strained by the building of more and more cabins, and when it finally breaks there is a series of ruthless attacks on the settlers that are uncommonly brutal for a film made in 1946. With Ward Bond as mean and sadistic Honey Bragg, and Lloyd Bridges as gambling miner Johnny Steele, and Hoagy Carmichael as minstrel/philosopher Hi Linnet, this rather unknown western by Jacques Tournier, known more for Out of the Past and Cat People is a real departure from the Wayne/Ford/Hawks pictures of this era.
A Great Frontier Movie
I never did think of “Canyon Passage” as a western — more like a frontier-homesteader movie, but it still had the adventure and drama that makes a fine film. I agree with those that said there is something mysteriously appealing about this film, as I have remembered it since it came out in 1946 when so many other movies have long faded from memory. Ward Bond was not known for playing villains, and this performance was truly scary and sinister. Lloyd Bridges plays the friendly good guy that characterized his roles, and Dana Andrews is perfectly cast as the leader. The film is rather hard to find, and I am hoping a DVD will one day be available. It is well worth watching and collecting.