The German video company Explosive Media has released a number of impressive western titles, among them: "Night Passage", a top-notch 1957 western showcasing James Stewart and a terrific supporting cast. The film was to be yet another collaboration between Stewart and director Anthony Mann but things fell apart when Audie Murphy was cast as Stewart's brother. Mann objected, saying he found their physical differences too unbelievable for that concept and felt the film would be undermined by the casting. Mann dropped out and television director James Neilson took over the troubled production. Neilson was able to exploit the wonders of Technirama, a short-lived widescreen process that was competing with CinemaScope in an attempt to lure increasingly prosperous Americans away from their new television sets and get them back into movie theaters. The screenplay was by the estimable Borden Chase. adapting a story from The Saturday Evening Post, as he had done for Howard Hawks' 1948 masterwork "Red River".
In "Night Passage", James Stewart plays Grant McLaine, a middle-aged drifter and cowpoke who had once been hired by the railroad to thwart a string of robberies committed by the Utica Kid (Audey Murphy), who is later revealed to be McLaine's kid brother. Seems that the railroad boss Ben Kimball (J.C. Flippen) became steamed when McLaine allowed the Utica Kid to escape on one occasion, though he did not know the two men were brothers. Kimball was convinced that McLaine and the Kid were in cahoots and fired McLaine. Now a new series of payroll robberies is occurring on the transport train with dismaying regularity. Kimball rehires McLaine, though he still harbors suspicions about him being in collusion with the Utica Kid and his gang. In fact, the Kid is indeed with a new gang, but this time it's run by Whitey Harbin (Dan Duryea), a cold blooded thief and killer who is plotting another robbery of a payroll shipment. McLaine ensures he is aboard the train, but he has secreted the payroll money on himself. When the gang boards the train after devising a way to waylay the security guards, they find no money in the safe- so they take Kimball's wife Verna (Elaine Stewart) hostage until they are paid the $10,000 in payroll funds. Meanwhile, McLaine finds himself caring for a precious pre-teen orphan boy, Joey Adams (Brandon DeWilde), who helped him hide the payroll money when the crooks boarded the train. The rest of the film follows McLaine as he tracks the gang to their hideout and has a rather tense reunion with his brother, who ignores his pleas to quit his career in crime. The entire affair ends with an exciting shootout at an abandoned mine camp that pits the two brothers on opposite sides.
"Night Passage" wasn't well-received by either critics or audiences back in the day, but watching the film now, it's pleasures become obvious. Stewart is in fine form and gets excellent support from the aforementioned co-stars. The film is peppered with many familiar faces including Jack Elam, Paul Fix and Ellen Corby. Dianne Foster is a beautiful tom boy who has a crush on the Utica Kid. Of interest to retro T.V. fans are the appearances of two future legendary sitcom dads, Herbert Anderson ("Dennis the Menace") and Hugh Beaumont ("Leave It to Beaver") in dramatic roles. As for Anthony Mann's concerns about the casting of Audie Murphy, it works well enough. The two iconic actors share some genuine chemistry and their age difference is far less preposterous that that of 48 year-old John Wayne playing the older brother to 22 year-old Michael Anderson Jr. in another fine Western, "The Sons of Katie Elder". It should be said that the film's most riveting performance is by Dan Duryea, playing against type as a loud, crude and brutal bad guy. He steals every scene he is in. Dimitri Tiomkin provides one of his typically rousing scores and the cinematography by William Daniels captures the grandeur of the California and Colorado locations.
One of the lobby cards featured in the photo gallery section.
The Explosive Media presentation is superb. The transfer is flawless and stunning in its beauty. As usual, the company has provided some interesting extras in addition to the trailer. They include extensive galleries of production photos and international film posters, pressbooks and lobby cards. The Blu-ray release includes tracks for both English and German language presentations. It's a pity the Explosive titles, which are all region-free, are not available outside of Germany (primarily through Amazon Deutschland) , however, they sometimes appear on eBay in other countries. This is an excellent presentation of a very underrated film.