A western with two Yvonne De Carlos and one Cornel Wilde out for revenge.
Passion (1954) is easy to describe; it’s a western with one plot through line, revenge, and two Yvonne De Carlos. Cornel Wilde plays a vaquero in Old California who returns home to discover to his great joy, that his girlfriend De Carlo has given birth to his son. His De Carlo (Rosa) is the mild, elegant, ultra-feminine one of twin sisters, while the other De Carlo (Tonya) is the tomboyish one with shorter hair who stomps and pouts around the house and works on the range with the rest of the men. She’s hot tempered and tough but sensitive enough to be visibly hurt everytime Wilde ignores or mocks her for not acting more like a girl. While Wilde dotes on the baby and plans his wedding, a brewing dispute over land ownership and ranching rights in the area is turning dangerous. The families have used their lands for decades based on just a handshake deal, but the new Don wants to take advantage of the lack of paperwork and reclaim all the land.
One day when Wilde is away, the Don’s gang arrive in darkness to evict the De Carlos’ family, and end up killing grampa John Qualen, grandma Rozene Kemper, and Wilde’s De Carlo (Rosa), but not before she manages to hide the baby and shoot back at some of the mob, which includes Lon Chaney Jr. and Rodolfo Acosta. De Carlo (Tonya) rides off to find Wilde, and when they return they just assume the baby has been burned beyond recognition like the rest of the family. Unbeknownst to anyone, a couple happened by, found the baby and rode off in panic when they heard Wilde and company approaching, mistaking them for another gang of killers. The childless woman takes this orphan as a gift from God and has no plans to report her find to anyone.
The devastated Wilde spends the rest of the film looking for justice. The first clue comes when De Carlo recognizes Chaney’s booming voice in town, but just on her word, they get no help from the local lawman, played by Raymond Burr. When Wilde catches up to the first henchman on his list, he gets a confession but has to kill the criminal in self defense. A sympathetic Burr distracts his partner Anthony Caruso, lets Wilde and De Carlo escape, and as Wilde works his way through the gang members and finally the leader, you have Burr trying to give Wilde room without making Caruso too suspicious, plus the question of how Wilde will ever be reunited with his baby.
The plotting of Passion is nothing overly exciting or elaborate, just the facts and then a single minded obsession for the bulk of the movie but it works just fine. For a solidly average story and a low budget affair it has a lot of interesting and beautiful things going for it. Director Allen Dwan spends a lot of time in the first parts of the film to show us Wilde is a loving man and his new home is full of joy, contrasted with the mean Acosto who whips his son and brutally murders women and the elderly defending their homes. As for the dual role, even a tomboyish De Carlo is still a De Carlo. Instead of distinctly different looks the sisters are differentiated by behaviour, so she’s just as gorgeous in both roles and it’s amusing to see Wilde so smitten with one while chuckling at the other when she says she owns a dress and plans to wear it. It won’t surprise viewers that as the only remaining member of the family he loved, as a woman identical to his lost love, and as one so dedicated to helping Wilde, he warms to her by the end of the picture.
A huge asset in Passion is the amazing scenery and beautiful colour cinematography by John Alton. As the action unfolds and Wilde tracks down and confronts the bad men, he travels from attractive ruins to the snowy Sierras. That last cold trek takes a long time, as Burr and De Carlo follow Wilde following Acosta up the mountain, but the combination of studio and location footage makes for an impressive sequence that ends with a cabin shootout. My main quibble with the movie was the use of distracting accents, as if everyone recently started ESL lessons. The halting delivery never sounded natural, especially when the lines spoken were wise old sayings or legal disputes. Otherwise Passion was enjoyable, with enough to give western fans a decent story and a nice eyeful.