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Four Faces West

Four Faces West
1948 / b&w / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 89 min. / Street Date July 22, 2003 / 14.98
Starring Joel McCrea, Frances Dee, Charles Bickford, Joseph Calleia, William Conrad
Cinematography Russell Harlan
Production Designer Duncan Cramer
Film Editor Edward Mann
Original Music Paul Sawtell
Written by C. Graham Baker, Teddi Sherman, William & Milarde Brent from the novel Pasó por aquí by Eugene Manlove Rhodes
Produced by Vernon E. Clark, Harry Sherman
Directed by Alfred E. Green

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', however.


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 his reasons. 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 silent pictures.

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
Video: Good
Sound: 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 2007 Glenn Erickson

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