Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Four Faces West is a fairly blah title for this charming and unique little Western. The
original Pasó por aquí translates as the equally unexciting 'He Passed by Here',
Clean-cut Ross McEwen (Joel McCrea) robs a bank right under the nose of proud
sheriff Pat Garrett (Charles Bickford), starting a serious manhunt in Southern New Mexico. McEwen
takes a train and a stage with two companions who become fast friends, nurse Fay Hollister (Frances
Dee) and mysterious Mexican businessman Monte Marquez (Joseph Calleia). By the time they reach their
hometown of Alamogordo, both of his acquaintances know his secret, and are trying to help him find
a way out of his trouble.
You can't find a better 'civilized' Western than Four Faces West. It starts with a bank
robbery and continues with the twist that the thief is a good man we want to
escape. It sounds fairly corny, and perhaps it is, but a serious tone and excellent performances
sell us on the story right away.
This may very well be a remake & retitling of a silent picture. McCrea calmly steals $2,000 when
he knows the toughest lawman in the West will be on his trail, and we have to wait to find out
Numerous potentially menacing characters appear, only to be convinced of McCrea's good character.
The major fear is that Pat Garrett's posse will gun him down before he can convince them he's no
ordinary outlaw. 1
None of the ordinary-sounding events play as ordinary, due to the wise script and pleasant actors.
Joseph Calleia is the standout as the Mexican sharpie who sees through McCrea's disguise early on.
So many Westerns are based on treachery and lies, as if the genre were only good for criticism,
that it's refreshing to run into credible characters with good intentions. Everybody has a job and
needs to make a living. When nurse Frances Dee runs off to be with her new friend the outlaw, we
worry that her life will be ruined, too.
The simple tale gives McCrea the opportunity to redeem himself, yet has no religious theme, nor
Pollyanna attitude. The overall civility of the show is evident in the casting of Mexicans in
only positive roles. The average Western uses poor Latins as comedy relief or as pitiful victims,
so the benign attitude here is very refreshing. Alfred Green's direction is gentle and unassertive.
The silent-movie link comes back in a schematic but telling detail: McCrea turns his bullets into
medicine by reclaiming the sulphur from the gunpowder to make an inhalant. It may not be good
medicine, but it's a swords-into-plowshares concept that makes a moral point without thumping a
bible. Four Faces West is no classic, but it has dignity and makes us feel good about people.
Fans of movie stars will delight in the co-billing of McCrea and Frances Dee, one of the happiest
and longest-married couples in Hollywood. Their chemistry is very successful, and I can see this
show being a fun romantic picture for them to run in retirement. They played together back in the
early 30s, which is perhaps how they met.
The film isn't a typical independent 'family' production, despite the clues in the credits. Producer
Harry Sherman made a couple dozen Westerns, mostly in the 40s. His daughter Teddi's credit is real;
she's a screenwriter on a lot of later pictures, including Robert Aldrich's Ten Seconds to Hell
and a bunch of television series. 'Eugene Manlove Rhodes' isn't some W.C. Fields pen name, but a
famous Western writer who'd already been dead 15 years. Most of his works had been adapted as
It wasn't until the movie was over, that I realized that this was one Western where not one shot is
ever fired. I'm not sure I'm aware of another.
Artisan's DVD of Four Faces West is totally bare bones, with a dull cover and some dubious
copy on the back ("A marshall with a conscience more than just the law ..."). It has the same
Artisan graphic that says the film has been reformatted, when it hasn't. It also says the mix is
in 2.0 Dolby Stereo surround. So there's one front channel and one rear one? I don't think so.
No, the packaging isn't going to do the job, so buyers unfamiliar with this fairly obscure movie
will have to rely on reviews like this one to find it. And if Savant leads some Western fans to
something unusual that they wouldn't otherwise find, then, to borrow a phrase, all our hard work
ain't been in vain for nuthin'.
If Artisan/Viacom/Paramount really want to do us a favor, they should dip into the Republic library
for the greats Johnny Guitar and a good remastered reissue of Invasion of the Body
Snatchers. Or how about the great Alamo picture, The Last Command?
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Four Faces West rates:
Movie: Very Good
Supplements: Scene index! Closed Captioning! Full Screen version!
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 17, 2003
1. After seeing Sam Peckinpah's
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which indicts the legendary lawman as a turncoat Judas who
shoots his best friend in cold blood, Charles Bickford's Garrett in this picture
seems darker than he's meant to be.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2003 Glenn Erickson
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