Man from Colorado, The (1949) ***
Directed by Henry Levin. Written by Robert Hardy Andrews & Ben Maddow from a story by Borden Chase. Photography, William E. Snyder. Editing, Charles Nelson. Art direction ,Stephen Goosson & A. Leslie Thomas. Music, George Duning. Costumes, Jean Louis. Stunts: Richard Farnsworth (uncredited) .Cast: Glenn Ford (Col. Owen Devereaux), William Holden (Capt. Del Stewart), Ellen Drew (Caroline Emmet), Ray Collins (Big Ed Carter), Edgar Buchanan (Doc Merriam), Jerome Courtland(Johnny Howard), James Millican (Sgt. Jericho Howard), Jim Bannon (Nagel), et al. A Columbia picture. In Technicolor. 100 minutes.
The Civil War has just finished. Two best, inseparable friends from the same town in the Colorado Territory have served together in the Union Army-- Ford (as colonel) and Holden (as captain.) They return home, get heroes' welcome. It is obvious that both love the same charming woman, Caroline (Ellen Drew.)
An oddity. The Technicolor color visuals are excellent. But the officers' uniforms are impeccably clean, neat, beautifully tailored, and look brand new or just-pressed. Even the common soldiers have much-too-nice uniforms. That's way too chic and artificial for the context. And that's why I made an exception by listing in the credits the ace clothes designer Jean Louis. (b. Paris, France 1904, d. California 1977). His first Hollywood movie was in 1944, his last in1973. I can find no information about his life before 1944, but I did read that from 1993 to his demise he was the fourth and last husband of Loretta Young (b.1913-d. 2000).
I was also sidetracked by the sight of Glen Ford's odd bouffant hairdo. However, disbelief did soon enough give way to concentration, as the town's notables elevate Ford to Federal Judge and reluctant Holden to town Marshall.
Now comes the serious business. War has affected everybody. Specifically, in Ford's case it has changed him into a man of gratuitous violence who is well on the road to madness. By the time peace comes, buddy Holden should have realized the severity of this, yet he gets his first big taste of Ford's mental state belatedly -- when an enraged, uniformed, gun-toting Rebel office suddenly shows up. Madder than hell, he accuses menacingly Ford of having ordered the mass killing of his (the Rebel's) men even though the latter had clearly shown a white flag of surrender. Former Colonel Ford shoots dead than man, pretending it was self-defense.
There follow episodes which pit the returning soldiers, most if not all former gold prospectors, against the local magnates. The men find that their claims have been taken over by the Great Star Mining Company on the legal grounds that read: if a claim is not prospected within three years, it reverts to a public land. Which, of course, the Mining Company grabs.
By now the combination of capitalist ruthlessness, the alliance of the rich and the Judge, and Ford's unbalanced nature, are clear to all, including Holden, yet not to Caroline who has finally chosen Ford as her spouse-to-be. Holden, not because he is a sore loser but because he sees things as they are, begs Judge Ford to postpone the wedding until he gets cured. "You're sick inside, too sick to marry her."
Violence spreads, the plot extends in complex ways which involve more and more people. While predictable in its general lines, without radical or original changes or major surprises, the story's twists and details are interesting as well as credible. The combination of mental illness, exploited veterans, and unjust "Justice" is quite attention-getting. The set-up is all the more striking as the movie came so soon after the end of World War II. In fact, the entire film could be transposed to a non-Western story set in different times and places.
Performances range from solid to superior. The director and writers were an able bunch whose good work included several westerns and other types of action movies. In many respects "The Man from Colorado" belongs, in essence, to the "think-westerns" that would follow in the 1950s or 1960s on.
Notes & Homage:
The stunts are by uncredited Richard Farnsworth (1920-2000.) His is an interesting case. Betweeb 1937 and 1975 he was a stuntman and/or rider in almost 50 films, many of them notable. Then he became a supporting or walk-on actor in about 60 movies (also including major work.) Curiously, he was rediscovered and given more significant parts. He became widely known for his Oscar-nominated part in "Comes a Horseman" and a household name in the title role of "The Grey Fox" as the genteel robber of stage coaches, then trains. That movie as well as Farnsworth had several major nominations and wins. In 1999, he triumphed in David Lynch's clever and touching "The Straight Story," received several nominations or prizes. A few months after his nomination at the 2000 Oscars, he commited suicide as he had terminal cancer.