Directed by Raoul Walsh
Written by John Twist & Edmund H. North
While there are some truly memorable, epic, and mainstream entries into the western genre, a lot of the charm of the genre comes in the package of the smaller, B-movie entries. These quick, cheaply made films stick truest to the genre, and perhaps aren’t as original as a result, but they embody the tropes of the genre, allowing stars like Joel McCrea, who stars here in Colorado Territory, to shine. And while they may be cheaply made, and mostly unoriginal, they actually afford the genre the opportunity to tell some very interesting and unique stories, to play with ideas within the genre without the pressure of a big budget, major release. These western B-movies are the heart of the genre and make up a good portion of the 300 plus films in this marathon. However, not all B-movies are created equal.
Wes McQueen (Joel McCrea) is a notorious outlaw who has finally been jailed for his crimes. But McQueen soon escapes the hands of the law and is on his way to another robbery when he encounters a man from Georgia (Henry Hull) and his daughter, Julie Ann (Dorothy Malone). After saving their lives during a stagecoach attack, McQueen begins to fall for Julie Ann, but must make his way to the secret hideout where he meets fellow conspirators Reno (John Archer) and Duke (James Mitchell), along with another beautiful woman named Colorado (Virginia Mayo). Tensions arise between McQueen, Duke and Reno, in the build up to the planned robbery, which brings even more doubt into Wes’ mind as he grows even closer to both Julie Ann and Colorado. But will McQueen be pulled to freedom from his sins, or will he sink back into his criminal ways?
Colorado Territory is a remake of Raoul Walsh’s 1941 film High Sierra, but set as a western. I had no idea if I were being honest, having never seen that Humphrey Bogart film, but I am certainly intrigued now, given that film’s reputation as one of the first essential Noir films. As I cannot comment on High Sierra, or obviously how it might compare to Colorado Territory, I also cannot compare Joel McCrea and Humphrey Bogart, other than to say that I think after a handful of McCrea westerns, I would prefer Bogart. In this role specifically, who know? But overall I find McCrea too much of a statue, monotone in his ability to emote and deliver a line. There is no fervor in his performance. I am not sure there is anything specific about his performance here that led me to this conclusion, as I have seen numerous other films starring McCrea, but I do think I have grown tired of him.
The other players here are interesting enough though, and I found the dynamic between Colorado, McQueen and Julie Ann a fascinating character study for an outlaw contemplating going straight. James Mitchell as Duke is amusingly entertaining in a kind of charming, amateurish way. There are some intriguing elements thrown in here too, like the abandoned town hideout of Duke, Reno and Colorado, an element we also saw in Yellow Sky. But there is not enough true conflict to latch onto here, to root for. McQueen likes the idea of Julie Ann, but I never thought he might abandon his thieving ways for her. It was also clear as day what direction the relationship between McQueen and Colorado would take the moment they met. There is little in the way of suspense as a result.
What ultimately lets this film down is the robbery itself. The build up to it is the meat of the film, but the robbery itself is just not as thrilling or exciting as it ought to be. This unfortunate sequence really brings the film down leading into its rather interesting conclusion. I just wish momentum from the film could be carried throughout the film. Instead, this mediocre sequence is sandwiched in between an otherwise unique and entertaining western. This, and Joel McCrea are what make Colorado Territory a difficult film to recommend. I, for one, am still intrigued to see what High Sierra has to offer, as I expect it would be the superior version of this story. As it is, Colorado Territory is a passable facsimile.