Joel McCrea Ambles For His Life In This Melodramatic Western
Directed By Alfred E. Green / 1948
Street Date December 18, 2017 / Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Four Faces West is a classic Hollywood Western from 1948 starring Joel McCrea (Sullivan’s Travels), Francis Dee (I Walked with a Zombie), and Charles Bickford. McCrea plays Ross McEwen, a stranger who rides into the town of Santa Maria on a day celebrating the arrival of famed lawman Pat Garrett (Charles Bickford). While Garrett is giving a speech to the townsfolk, McEwen is busy relieving the local bank of $2000. McEwen gets a nice head start on his getaway, but the banker offers a $3000 reward for his capture, dead or alive. Santa Maria’s posse is well motivated after that.
Seeking to throw the pursuit off his trail, McEwen abandons his horse and plans to jump a train. While stashing his saddle in the bush, he is bitten by some stock footage of a rattlesnake. McEwen is forced to cut open the wound to get the poison out, and once on the train his injuries catch the attention of a young nurse named Fay Hollister (Dee). She is on her way to Alamogordo to work in the new railroad hospital there. A Mexican gambler named Monte Marquez (Joseph Calleia) also takes an interest in McEwan’s plight, and becomes doubly so when Monte hears of the reward for McEwan’s capture.
McEwan, Marquez and Fay eventually arrive at Alamogordo, where McEwan decides to try and lay low as a ranch hand. He’s taken a shine to the pretty young nurse, and wants to remain close to her. For her part, Fay suspects that McEwan is in some sort of trouble, but senses that he’s not really a bad man. McEwan’s respite may be short lived, however, since Garrett and the posse from Santa Maria are hot on his trail.
Four Faces West isn’t a great work of cinematic art, but it is a perfectly entertaining piece of melodramatic popcorn. McCrea brings a natural charm to the role of a down-on-his luck cowboy who turns to crime and his on-screen relationship with Dee, who was his real-life wife, is sweet. Calleia’s motivations are opaque throughout. You never know if he intends to help McEwen or betray him for the reward until late in the game. But overall the movie is pretty slight. Charming and sweet probably shouldn’t be the first two adjectives that come to mind when thinking about a Western. Even with the world’s most famous lawman on his tail, McEwan doesn’t seem like he’s in any particular hurry. The stakes involved just don’t feel that important. This being an American Western produced under the auspices of Hollywood’s old production code, it’s a sure bet McEwan’s crime won’t pay, but there’s very little tension throughout.
Charming and sweet probably shouldn’t be the first two adjectives that come to mind when thinking about a Western.
Actor Joel McCrea got a real taste for starring in Westerns following 1946’s The Virginian. He would appear almost exclusively in the genre from that point on until his last film, Mustang Country, in 1976. He once stated in an interview that he felt acting in Westerns was easier for him as he got older. “The minute I got a horse and a hat and a pair of boots on, I felt easier.” McCrea said. “I didn’t feel like I was an actor anymore. I felt like I was the guy out there doing it.” He’s pretty good in this, even if the film’s direction doesn’t really make his situation seem as desperate as it should be.
The screenplay for Four Faces West was written by William and Milarde Brent, C. Graham Baker, and Teddi Sherman. It was loosely adapted from the novel Pasó por aquí by Western novelist Eugene Manlove Rhodes. It’s atypical for a Western- no punches are thrown and not a single shot is fired; the only time somebody actually uses bullets is to make medicine out of their gunpowder. The movie didn’t do so well at the box office – it didn’t even make its production budget back. Whether that was because it avoided violence or because it just wasn’t that good of a movie is anyone’s guess.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics has released Four Faces West on Blu-Ray in the classic 1.33:1 aspect ratio, with a resolution of 1920x1080p. The feature comes with a collection of trailers for other Kino Lorber Westerns.
The images in this review are not representative of the actual Blu-ray’s quality, and are included only to represent the film itself.