Directed by Sidney Lanfield
Written by Frank Fenton and Winston Miller
Evident by the list of films for this Westerns marathon, the sheer volume of films made chronicling cowboys and indians, outlaws and lawmen is impressive. Especially during the period of time I am now entering, the late 40s and into the 50s, saw a huge spike in Western productions. So it should stand to reason that there would be more than a few impressive, epic classics, more than a few small, B-movie types, and more than a few middle of the road productions. I expect we’ll be getting a little bit of everything in the coming films. I bring all this up because this film, Station West, very much feels like a small B-movie type production, for better or worse.
After two US calvarymen turn up robbed and dead while transporting gold, Haven (Dick Powell), an undercover Army investigator is dispatched to a small mining town to find the killers. After checking into the hotel, whose desk is manned by a serenading clerk (Burl Ives), Haven makes his way to Charlie’s Saloon, ready to make trouble and start finding out who is naughty and who is nice in this town. Haven meets with Mrs. Caslon (Agnes Moorehead), who owns the gold mine that was robbed, confronts Charlie’s (Jane Greer) bouncer (Guinn Williams), suspects Charlie’s lawyer (Raymond Burr) since he is in debt to Charlie, and ruffles Prince’s (Gordon Oliver) feathers by getting closer to Charlie. With so many suspects, who really committed the crime?
After sitting on this film for a few days, I can easily see the draw of this film to its fans. Station West is not a monumental moment in western history, but it’s a very sharply written screenplay. There are elements here which touch the quintessentials of the genre. A singing hotel clerk, a female saloon owner, an undercover lawman solving a murder, double-crosses. There is a lot to chew on here from a screenplay perspective, and it should be applauded for that. Dick Powell in the lead role is a confident leading man who is unafraid to take control of the screen. Unfortunately, he seems to be about the only one up to the task.
The rest of the film feels very like an extended television episode. And while we’re currently in a golden era of television, that’s not the type of TV being made in 1948. It feels small, and it feels far less polished than a lot of the other films in this marathon. The production values are lower, the tone of the film is a little sillier and over-the-top than a story like this ought to be. In many ways it just feels more amateurish than I was expecting, especially given the premise. And the ensemble, again apart from Powell and even Ives, whose singing hotel clerk is a happy escape within the film, feel second rate as well, giving forced and very delivered performances.
They mystery whodunit style western is a cool take on the genre, and a great setting for a murder mystery, and for that reason, Station West is notable. However, I just wish the film would have had a larger budget, a more capable team of filmmakers, a sharper cast, anything else that might have elevated the material as opposed to holding it back. For what it is, Station West is fine, enjoyable. But I couldn’t help but see the rough edges, and the potential for it to be something even greater, which is something that always manages to leave a sour taste in my mouth.