Four Faces West (1948)

fourfaces4

I haven’t done a count yet but I’m pretty sure that this year I’ve watched Joel McCrea more than any other actor. I saw most of his westerns, some I blogged about, like Frenchie, Cattle Drive, The Lone Hand, Stranger on Horseback, The Tall Stranger, Cattle Empire, The Outriders, Saddle Tramp, and several more I never got around to reviewing: Fort Massacre, Colorado Territory, Trooper Hook, Stars in my Crown, The First Texan, The Oklahoman, and Four Faces West. So when Toby at 50 Westerns From the 50s announced this blogathon celebrating Joel McCrea, it was the perfect chance to write up one of my favourite Joel discoveries of the year.

In Four Faces West, McCrea plays Ross McEwen, a cowboy down on his luck who “robs” a bank–better to say he politely takes out a loan at gunpoint, which is the only collateral he has. He takes no more than the $2000 his father needs, he leaves an I.O.U. signed “Jefferson Davis,” doesn’t hurt anyone, and catches a passing train to escape. The banker offers a reward for McEwen, dead or alive, but new marshal Pat Garrett (Charles Bickford) senses this isn’t the work of your ordinary bandit. Garrett’s also determined to keep things civil and get his man safe in custody before the posse finds and kills him. Meanwhile, a snake-bitten McEwen is treated on the train by nurse from the East, Fay Hollister (Frances Dee). His getaway is delayed and complicated as he falls in love with her, and when she realizes he’s the bank robber, she tries to convince him to turn himself in and rebuild his life instead of constantly running like a coward. Also on that train is Mexican saloon owner Monte (Joseph Calleia) who’s quick to figure out McEwen’s wanted, and he initially keeps us all wondering if he’s truly a protective pal or planning to rat McEwen out and get the reward.

fourfaces2

The on-screen pairing and sweet chemistry of real-life couple McCrea and Dee is always welcome and enjoyable, and they get a smart and satisfying story where an apparent crook proves in the course of a manhunt that he’s actually a “valiant gentleman.” McCrea may have been older than the source material indicated, but he’s perfect to play this kind, principled, determined and reserved character. McEwen’s neither given to, nor comfortable with explaining himself, but his actions speak volumes about his nobility, and noble is something McCrea was natural at.

McEwen starts paying back the stolen money while on the run, and you never doubt his promise to return all of it. He wants to stay with Fay but doesn’t dare involve her in his troubles. He leaves some cash for a horse he’s “stealing” during his getaway. He doesn’t even hurt the bratty little tattletale who nearly rats him out after noting his resemblance to the man described on the wanted flyer. (Monte hilariously shuts the kid up with a trip and a faceful of dirt, but pays for it later during a poker game.) McEwen’s most endearing and admirable act comes when he can make a clean escape but stops to help a Mexican rancher’s family dying of diphtheria. McEwen hunts deer, cooks up broth, applies kerosene remedies and most tellingly, even uses all the gunpowder in his bullets to mix a vapour. By the time he crosses paths again with Fay, Monte and Garrett, he’s completely spent, and more than deserving of respect, leniency and a second chance.

fourfaces1

Early in the film, washed out railways send our characters on a detour by stage, with a stop at El Morro National Monument. This giant rock formation bears carved inscriptions from those who passed it (Pasó por aquí was the title of the source novel by Eugene Manlove Rhodes) on their way to unknown territory and the promise of a new better life. Monte gives a nice speech there to explain the place’s history and carvings, and they all return in the final scene, so it serves as a nice reminder of the lasting value of ideals, hopes and sacrifices in people’s journeys.

This movie is a total pleasure, with plot threads that weave together nicely and naturally, and many clever things McEwen does to squeak out of tight spots to make the chase entertaining and suspenseful. It’s a sophisticated look at the four main characters as they come to understand each other and become part of McEwen’s redemption. And, as most reviews of this movie point out, it’s a western where not one shot is fired nor punch thrown, and that’s fitting for such a sincere, sensitive and uplifting story about honour, humility, and good deeds being recognized and rewarded.

Click here to see all the other McCrea films being covered in this blogathon

joel-mccrea-blogathon-badge

Advertisements

17 thoughts on “Four Faces West (1948)”

  1. Great choice, Kristina! And a beautifully-written and heartfelt review.

    This was the first Joel McCrea western I ever saw (around 1955 on UK TV). ‘Paso Por Aqui’ is relevant – the film was released in the UK as “THEY PASSED THIS WAY” although when it turned up on TV it was shown as “FFW”. Just a lovely lovely film.

    1. Thank you! Was glad to discover and now rewatch this one, such a nice movie, you’re right. They Passed this Way would be the better and more memorable title. That’s neat about being the first western of his you saw!

    1. Thanks, can’t wait to read the other posts, now that so many of his movies are fresh in my mind. It’s like chips, you can’t watch just one. I LOVED Stars in my Crown, what a fun and touching movie that was! Not that Colorado wasn’t great too.

  2. Kristina ,I thoroughly enjoyed your review on this movie .As I have previously mentioned ,this is my favourite McCrea film and one I watch a lot. The funny thing is that I had never heard of this film until a couple of years ago until a friend sold it to me. I rarely buy second hand DVDs but I thought I would take a chance on it ,I absoloutely loved it .A story about loyalty ,friendship and honesty .He was so honest ,he even gave the banker back some money for giving him too much .I saw an interview with Joel McCrea on U Tube and he said that the director , Alfred Green looked like a New York song writer .He said that Green would not tell you to do something ,instead he would offer suggestions .For instance he would say “do you think your hat needs to be pulled down a little”.

    1. It’s a great character, so likable and a good fit for McCrea. As you say it’s not the best known movie of his, and it was certainly a nice surprise for me and hope more people look for it. That’s interesting about Green, suggesting more than directing–it made for a very well-plotted and meaningful film. Thanks so much for dropping by to comment!

  3. Fine choice, Kristina! I really must catch up with your writing – a lot of McCrea there.
    Anyway, this is a really enjoyable film and it’s nice to see Mr & Mrs McCrea on screen.

    1. It is nice to see them together, and I loved in Cattle Drive when he shows a picture of his girl and it’s her, even though she’s not technically in the movie 🙂 It’s so easy to get into movie binges with people like Joel and eat up all their movies, especially since I hadn’t seen so many of his westerns. Thanks!

  4. WOW! your McCrea binge is amazing…so many great films is such a short
    time span.
    A very nice choice for the blogathon and a film that deserves more attention,so
    many thanks for that.
    I read years ago that producer Harry Sherman had planned to make a series
    of big budget color Westerns starring Joel and released by Eagle Lion.
    Sadly Eagle Lion went out of business before this deal could be done.
    On the strength of FOUR FACES WEST and RAMROD this Sherman
    Eagle Lion proposed deal promised much,but sadly was never to be.
    Another intriguing aside to all this was,at the time Anthony Mann was
    Eagle Lion’s house director-he elevated from B to A movies there.
    A Mann Western starring Joel is indeed an intriguing thought.

    1. Sorry for the delay John, I wrote a reply but guess I didn’t hit that magic button! Well I just viewed South of St. Louis too and will try to fit more in as I read through all the great posts in this blogathon. Really interesting to imagine that series, too bad it didn’t work out. I seem to recall a discussion here months ago where one of you stated your preference for the hero riding off at the end, promising to return to his lady, and FFW here is a nice example of that.

  5. I’m glad you covered this lovely film, Kristina, one from what I consider as the best period of McCrea (and I know I’m already on record with that). It plays out in such a quiet way, but always with plenty of drama too. I don’t know Alfred E. Green that well but do think he got everything right here. One more that’s good to go back to.

    The four leads, all of whom I deeply appreciate, are all well-cast. It sometimes seems regrettable to me that McCrea and Dee were not in more movies together, because they have great chemistry on screen (not true of all off screen relationships as demonstrated by Taylor/Burton for one example). The Silver Horde (on which they met) is a movie I haven’t seen yet, but of the two I have I believe this one is much better than the earlier Wells Fargo. Of course, there is also that charming moment in Cattle Drive when he take her picture.

    One other connection though–I Walked with a Zombie is arguably Frances Dee’s best movie (really a great movie for me) and directed by Jacques Tourneur, who I consider McCrea’s best director and directed McCrea’s personal favorite of his movies Stars in My Crown (as well as Stranger on Horseback and Wichita). It’s my understanding that Tourneur and McCrea were in high school together and were friends as well.

    1. I just loved it and it was the first one to pop to mind to do for this blogathon, just such an uplifting and nice western, but with suspense and drama like you said. The scenes on the train, where they’re getting to know each other and he’s about to tell her who he is, but she already knows–just wonderful stuff, so authentic. I saw Wells Fargo years ago and I have seen Silver Cord, that would be a fun one to cover if another McCrea event happens soon. Thanks!

  6. Kristina, I’m so glad you wrote about this, it’s one of my top favorite McCrea films and I’d love more people to get to know it — delighted you like it also.

    Like you I’ve seen WELLS FARGO and THE SILVER CORD, but this is my favorite of McCrea and Dee’s films together. The scene where he brings her a ring is so sweet that the first time I saw it I had to rewind immediately and watch it again before going on with the movie. 🙂

    And what a fantastic supporting cast in Calleia, Bickford, and Conrad. Lovely film — your description as “uplifting” is right on.

    Best wishes,
    Laura

    1. Such a mature and gentle western, not that many of them don’t have those elements. Love that bit where she’s at the station worried she’ll never see him again, and he pops up beside her, kind of measuring her attitude. So many unspoken little moments like that make their relationship so touching and chemistry so nice. Plus the plot’s pretty unpredictable, but not in a “try-hard” way. Hope people look for it after reading all these raves! Thanks!

  7. Yes! That bit at the train station is great! Your additional descriptions in your comment are right on. 🙂 🙂

    Best wishes,
    Laura

Comments are closed.