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With: Dana Andrews, Brian Donlevy, Susan Hayward, Patricia Roc, Ward Bond, Hoagy Carmichael, Fay Holden, Stanley Ridges, Lloyd Bridges, Andy Devine, Victor Cutler, Rose Hobart, Halliwell Hobbes, James Cardwell, Onslow Stevens
Written by: Ernest Pascal, based on a novel by Ernest Haycox
Directed by: Jacques Tourneur
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 92
Date: 07/17/1946

Canyon Passage (1946)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Buttermilk Sky

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After making his mark with three black-and-white horror masterworks under producer Val Lewton at RKO, director Jacques Tourneur went over to Universal to make this full-color Western, and the results are not quite what I expected. Canyon Passage isn't exactly dynamic, but it is at least rich in mood and texture. While it contains very few traditional Western sequences, the total of its parts still feels quite satisfying. It's based on a novel by Ernest Haycox — whose short story also provided the basis for Stagecoach — and Tourneur and screenwriter Ernest Pascal do a fine job of compressing the story's nuances into its cinematic tapestry.

Dana Andrews (later in Tourneur's Night of the Demon) stars as Logan Stuart, who runs a freight company. While delivering a shipment back to his home in Jacksonville, Oregon, he also escorts Lucy (Susan Hayward), who is engaged to Logan's friend, banker George (Brian Donlevy). Logan is attacked by a man in the dark, and he suspects that the attacker is the brutish Bragg (Ward Bond). Then, they stop and Logan introduces Lucy to his girlfriend, Caroline (Patricia Roc). Back home, George flirts with a married woman and steals gold dust from his bank to pay off his rapidly-accruing gambling debts.

There's lots more intrigue, a murder, some evildoing by Bragg, the building of a log cabin for a new married couple, an Indian attack, and Hoagy Carmichael riding around on a burro singing a few songs, before Logan and Lucy admit to being in love with one another. Character actor Andy Devine co-stars, and young Lloyd Bridges plays "Johnny Steele." Carmichael's song "Ole Buttermilk Sky" received an Oscar nomination.

Kino Lorber released the film in a nice-looking transfer on Blu-ray in 2020. It includes theatrical trailers, and a commentary track by historian Toby Roan (he mostly goes over the biographies and filmographies of everyone involved, and rarely discusses the merits of the film itself; but at least I learned where Andy Devine's unique voice came from).

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