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The Man from Colorado

The Man from Colorado
Columbia TriStar
1948 / Color / 1:37 flat full frame / 100 min. / Street Date May 18, 2004 / 19.95
Starring Glenn Ford, William Holden, Ellen Drew, Ray Collins, Edgar Buchanan, James Millican
Cinematography William Snyder
Art Direction Stephen Goosson, A. Leslie Thomas
Film Editor Charles Nelson
Original Music George Duning
Written by Robert Hardy Andrews, Ben Maddow from a story by Borden Chase
Produced by Jules Schermer
Directed by Henry Levin

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 ++
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
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

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