21 November 1999 | Slim-4
Slow but colorful and entertaining Western with emphasis on lavish sets and costumes.
I like this movie. The slow pace is an asset rather than a liability. Although the cast is not particularly well-known, there is a delightful mix of characters in this better-than-usual Western. The movie is rather faithfully based on Gwen Bristow's romantic novel about early California.
The interior sets are the real stars of this film. From 1845 New Orleans to pre-Mexican War Santa Fe and Los Angeles the sets are very colorful and lavish. Joan Leslie, Vera Ralston and the rest of the cast work hard to brighten up the sets.
There is an aura of pleasant reality about this film. The characters generally are dressed in period clothing and carry vintage weapons. There is a refreshing variety in the clothing worn by the male characters, particularly in the hats. The wardrobes of Leslie and Ralston are as lavish as the sets. The only disappointment is the standard backlot Western town set which pretends to be Los Angeles. This set has appeared in countless Westerns and it looks oddly inappropriate here.
Much of this film occurs indoors. There is also little action. However, the great sets and script more than compensate. The acting is generally very good and the cast does a wonderful job with the characterizations. Vera Ralston does justice to her role as Florinda, a woman with an awful memory in her past. Joan Leslie's performance as a woman stranded in California by the untimely death of her husband is also far above standard. Forrest Tucker's role as John Ives is uneven. In some scenes he speaks his lines with a whisper. However, he more than compensates by handling himself well in the film's action scenes. Jack Elam has a bit part as a bad guy. Although he says only three words, he exudes evil in his brief appearance.
Normally, a slow pace is the kiss of death for a Western, but in this case the glacial pace works in its favor. Rather than hoping that something will happen, the viewer may find himself or herself wishing it won't end. This is a film that seems longer than it really is, and I wish it had been a little longer. I'm always sorry to see the end credits.
Victor Young's score is rich and vibrant. Although far from his best work, songs like "Jubilee Trail" are very enjoyable. The music for this film is not as overpowering as the music in Westerns like "The Big Country" and "The Magnificent Seven". In one scene the haunting melody of "Jubilee Trail" is played with strings and is almost inaudible as the mule train crosses the desert toward California. The brief cue which heralds the arrival of the pack train from California in Santa Fe effectively communicates the excitement of the moment. The only really loud song is Vera Ralston's song in the Los Angeles saloon. In this case the loud song is appropriate, because they are celebrating the expected birth of Garnet's (Joan Leslie) baby. As Western scores go this one stands out because it is different.
This film is now available on video and is well worth watching. You might find yourself watching it over and over again as I do.