July 27, 2007

Gratuitous Llama Netflix Movie Review


Night Passage (1957)

A very so-so Jimmy Stewart western, in which Jimmah must give up his quiet, retired life as a tramp railway musician in order to guard a train and its valuable railworkers' payroll from the predations of a desperate gang of robbers which includes Jimmah's improbably-named brother, the "Utica" Kid. (They may as well have called him the "Scranton" Kid or the "Wilkes-Barre" Kid. I cannot believe that there was ever a person in the entire history of the westward expansion who voluntarily went under the nickname "Utica" Kid.) The plot is kinda lame, the acting is kinda uneven and you have to listen to Jimmah sing and play the accordion. On the other hand, it is Jimmah after all, and this film comes complete with the gergious scenery and long, lanky, loose style usually associated with his westerns.

As in most of his other westerns, Jimmah here plays a quiet, decent, honorable guy who is trying to live down a past filled with ferocity and (sometimes) villainy. I must say that I've never bought this for an instant, not with Jimmah. You can easily imagine Clint Eastwood's stock Avenging Angel character having his own summer place in one of the lower circles of hell. And even the Dook could pull out latent savagery when he wanted to. But Jimmah? He was one of Nature's gentlemen and I simply can never imagine that one of his characters had ever done anything bloodthirsty, mean or dishonorable. Audiences were shocked and troubled by Henry Fonda's stone killer in Once Upon A Time In The West, especially when he shoots the kid in cold blood. Had Jimmah been cast in that role, the audiences either would have hooted in disbelief or else burned the theatre down.

Anyhoo, if you want a good Jimmah western, Winchester 73 is probably the best, although I also have a fondness for Bend of the River and The Far Country. And there is Bandolero! of course, if for no other reason than that you get Rachel Welch in chaps.

Robbo's Recommendation: Say two and a half yips! out of five. It's a pleasant way to waste 90 minutes but don't go out of your way for it.

Posted by Robert at July 27, 2007 08:20 AM | TrackBack

There is no such thing as a so-so Jimmy Stewart western: They all kick ass. Night Passage (From the year I was born) may not be up to the level of Winchester '73, but it was certainly better than the idiotic Spirit of St. Louis (Also from 1957). And really, is there a better western EVER than The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance? No, there isn't. Not even The Searchers (My personal favorite western of all time) is technically and artistically as good as that film, not to mention the once-in-a-generation cast.

Then you have the ensemble masterpiece How the West was Won in '62 and Cheyenne Autum in '64: Try to imagine Tombstone (My favorite "modern" western) with Jimmy Stewart as Wyatt Erp instead of Kurt Russell: Better film? Yeah, you bet. As an aside, Val Kilmer may be an unholy dick, but he was fracking BRILLIANT as Doc Holliday (Even though the performance was highly stylized).

Jimmy Stewart today - with modern production values - would dwarf every other "action" star alive. He didn't need big muscles, because he had a superior brain.

Posted by: Hucbald at July 27, 2007 09:46 AM

You're right that I should have included Liberty Valance, but I still maintain that there is a Scale of Jimmah Westerns and that Passage is somewhere in the middle. And you wouldn't say that all Jimmah westerns kick ass if you'd remembered The Cheyenne Social Club, which I consider the absolute back-marker.

Of course, comparing Jimmah with other actors is a completely different subject....

Posted by: Robbo the LB at July 27, 2007 10:06 AM

Funny. I was thinking of mentioning Cheyenne Social Club as a hilarious western-comedy masterpiece. We'll just chalk this up to different strokes: Honorable men can disagree. I think the chemistry between Stewart and Fonda in that film is magically and gut-bustingly funny.

Posted by: Hucbald at July 27, 2007 08:56 PM