Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The Man from Colorado's initially engaging idea plays out in as conventional
a way as possible, to nobody's credit. The story of a martinet officer in love with his ability to
kill with impunity never develops beyond B-movie situations, so there's little to do but watch
the capable cast grind their gears in unfavorable conditions.
A handsome Technicolor production, the film shows how good actors can't defeat bad material, and
gives us a look at William Holden's career doldrums before he got the mega-boost of
Sunset Blvd. two years later.
Psychotic Col. Owen Devereax (Glenn Ford) ignores a flag of surrender and massacres
100 Confederates on the last day of the war. Promoted to judge in his Colorado hometown, he appoints
his best aide Captain Del Stewart as his Marshall even though they both are wooing local girl Caroline
Emmett (Ellen Drew). Devereaux keeps acting erratically, but within the law, and Del objects when he
sides with an exploitative landowner against dozens of miners who have lost their claims. An ex-
sergeant of Devereaux starts an outlaw gang and repeatedly robs landowner Ed Carter (Ray Collins), which
throws Devereaux into fits of violence, hanging anybody he can catch. Eventually
Del sees no alternative but to join the rebels against the mad judge.
Hollywood movies were almost always so thoroughly law-and-order in their two-dimensional mythmaking
that westerns were put in a bind when they tried to "go dark" or even ambiguous on the theme. Henry King's
Jesse James painted the post- civil war outlaw as the victim of evil banks and carpetbaggers,
and went about as far as a film could go at the time to say that the "system" was rotten.
There were noir westerns in the late '40s that brought a psychological darkness and unease into the genre,
but although The Man from Colorado has a dark theme, it doesn't follow through. Even the title
seems like a pullback from what the story is really about; The Bloody Judge would fit the movie better.
This Borden Chase source tale focuses on the rough times right after the Civil War, when dispossed farmers
and unhappy ex-soldiers became terrorists, robbing banks and burning whole towns on the Kansas Border. In
Colorado, Union soldiers who fought against the South (even locally in the Sibley campaigns that formed the
excuse for a Civil War background in
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly) returned
to their mining towns to find their claims usurped by opportunistic landowners.
The story mixes two kinds of injustice and comes up a confused mess. Glenn Ford's Colonel is a
psycho in the first scene when he orders his cannon to fire at the enemy, and he doesn't change for
the whole picture. He makes a diary entry worrying about losing his mind near the beginning,
but that's it for explanations. 1
Pal William Holden knows something's up in the beginning but he doesn't act, conjuring a mutual responsibility
idea that never germinates. Holden enables Ford's unfair actions but only rebels after being betrayed by a man
he knew to be mad in the first place. The film soon devolves into a series of posse raids, hangings, and
accusations that only result in B-western action.
The Judge's main crime is to uphold the letter of the law that allows sharp businessman Ed Carter's use of
a loophole to seize gold property that isn't his. The film encourages us to see this as a bad
decision because it's unpopular and punishing to the innocent soldiers, whose only crime was to
leave their land for three years to fight for the Union. Besides being a plea for veterans' rights
(a touchy issue after WW2 when many veterans had a hard time finding decent housing), the movie implies
that Ford's Judge should toss the law out the window and decide the matter on a non-legal
sentimental basis. Since the crooked landowner was the one who nominated Ford to his office in the
first place, you'd think the miner-veterans could stop the decision in its tracks - Ford is obviously
in Ed Carter's pocket. In any normal situation, there'd be a payoff involved.
But Del lets Devereaux's judgment stand and good men become criminals to retaliate. Events drive Del and
the girl away, and Judge Devereaux resorts to the extreme measure of burning down a mining town to capture
the renegades. In true production code fashion, hero William Holden can be forgiven for participating
in terrorist raids that result in the death of deputies, because he means well. Original rebel Jericho
Howard (a good James Millican) has to die before the picture can end, to square things with the MPAA.
Glenn Ford has the same intensely unhappy look on his face throughout. William Holden's charm
surfaces only intermittently, and the rest of the time he seems to be doing an Alan Ladd imitation.
His sandy blonde hair and even the cut and fabric of his clothes resemble the Paramount star. Ellen Drew
frets and worries
and doesn't make much of an impression, and the rest of the cast are walk-on functionaries. Denver
Pyle (Sheriff Hamner in Bonnie & Clyde) and Ray Teal have nice bits, however.
Columbia TriStar's DVD of The Man from Colorado looks great, with a nicely preserved composite
negative given an excellent transfer. The cinematography is uneven, with the Stony Point-Santa Susana
Pass locations looking as generic as they do in 50 other westerns, but some of the closeup work is
nicely done. The audio is clear and simple.
Columbia's box artwork stresses Glenn Ford and mostly ignores William Holden. The disc formatting
starts us off with three trailers that we can ditch out of, but it's a pain anyway and an unwelcome
marketing decision. I'd really prefer that discs just launch into the movie after a short pause on the
main menu screen in case one wants to change a playback function or see a trailer first. The
simplified menuing on this disc points to cost-cutting over at the studio, but the visual quality of
the show is fine, and that's what counts.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Man from Colorado rates:
Movie: Fair ++
Supplements: Trailers for Gilda, Silverado and The Bridge on the River Kwai
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 5, 2004
1. There's a terrific Val
Lewton thriller called The Ghost Ship about a completely insane ship's captain who murders
members of his own crew just to exercise his right to authority. Really stiff actor Richard Dix plays him with
perfect self-control, so nobody ever suspects. Lewton understood the psychotic killer idea and
the film is at least 15 years ahead of its time; the captain confesses his crimes to his girlfriend
but cannot make himself do the right thing. The Man from Colorado could have used some of this
kind of complexity.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson