Saturday, May 04, 2019

The Nevadan (The Nitrate Picture Show)

The Nevadan. Randolph Scott, Forrest Tucker. Photo: a frame enlargement from the print screened.

Nevadan kultarosvot / Duell i bergen.
Gordon Douglas, US 1950
Print source: Österreichisches Filmmuseum (Austrian Film Museum), Vienna
Running time: 82 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 4 May 2019.

NPS: About the print
With 133 splices (all of which have been blooped), this rare Cinecolor print also shows some orange scratches where the two-sided emulsion was slightly scratched on the blue-green side. Shrinkage: 0.95%

About the film
“Westerns come out of Hollywood like a string of sausages from a meat factory. We like sausages, but we tend to take them for granted. Every so often, however, a Western comes along that is a fine specimen of its kind. The Nevadan, with Randolph Scott as a lean US marshal who ties in with an outlaw (Forrest Tucker) by way of recovering a quarter of a million in gold, is a prime example. It may not make any converts to horse-operas, but it will make those who enjoy them happy. Dorothy Malone cuts a trim figure on a horse, and George Macready and Frank Faylen are as obnoxious a pair of gold-hungry skunks as we’ve had around.”
– Edwin Miller, Seventeen, March 1950

“Ruggedness and realism, plus the employment of effective Cinecolor photography, have established several cuts above average westerns the sagebrush sagas being produced by Harry Joe Brown and starring Randolph Scott. This entry is no exception. It’s as tough as a rawhide latigo and as western as cactus. Where vigorous, action-laden, suspenseful drama is appreciated the picture should prove to be a certain hit. The story, through the introduction of several away-from-formula twists, transcends the stereotyped oater yarn; but the innovational angles are not projected at the expense of chases, gunfights, fisticuffs and the other desirable western ingredients.”
– Boxoffice, January 14, 1950 (NPS)

AA: A mighty good Western. Directed by Gordon Douglas, The Nevadan is yet another proof of how wrong we can go if we only follow the great auteur trail in search of good movies.

The Nevadan is a Randolph Scott star vehicle. Perhaps typically, I have been learning to know Scott by crabwalk: starting with Ride the High Country, proceeding to the Ranown cycle, then to films directed by André De Toth and Joseph H. Lewis, meanwhile realizing the distinction of Roy Huggins in his sole credit as a cinema-released film director.

The Nevadan is a Harry Joe Brown – Randolph Scott production for Columbia, and it seems that the Brown-Scott brand was a promise of quality. Scott did great work with others, as well, so he must have had a good sense in selecting his projects and assessing his strengths. Scott could often be bland, but I still also need to see his Paramount cycle of Zane Grey westerns. Henry Hathaway debuted in them and directed Scott to his breakthrough in stardom.

The Nevadan starts in medias res. The introduction is amazingly quick, taking largely place during the opening credits. The plot of the compact film is pretty complex, based on conflicts and tensions between four sets of partners. The distinction of the film is in its witty character studies and great ensemble playing. The granite-faced and ramrod-straight Scott understood to surround himself with actors livelier than himself: Forrest Tucker, Frank Faylen, George Macready, Charles Kemper, Jeff Corey, Tom Powers, and Jock Mahoney.

The story and the screenplay are by George W. George and George F. Slavin, and contributing to the juicy dialogue was none other than Rowland Brown, the director of the stunning pre-Code trio of crime films (Quick Millions, Hell's Highway, Blood Money) who had largely disappeared from the Hollywood scene during the Production Code but was still involved in selected high profile projets including What Price Hollywood? / A Star Is Born and Angels With Dirty Faces. I sense in the dialogue a special sting and a sense of humour that might be attributed to Rowland Brown.

A further distinction of The Nevadan is the strong female role of Karen Galt, a rancher who gets to know Andrew Barclay (Scott) when he needs to trade horses. Her cowboys try to trick him with a wild and untamed horse, but he impresses everybody with his prowess. Andrew, in turn, is impressed by Karen and tells her she seems "pretty sure of herself".

It's gratifying to see Dorothy Malone in an early leading role. She is a convincing rancher, and she interprets the Oedipal / Electra theme with a persuasion that helps understand why Douglas Sirk cast her in his two greatest films, Written on the Wind and The Tarnished Angels. The attraction between Karen and Andrew is based on a meeting of two independent spirits. She is no routine love interest.

The AFI Catalog editors report that they were only able to access a black and white print of The Nevadan, but today we saw a genuine vintage nitrate Cinecolor print from Vienna. The colour world is not perfect but it is expressive within its limitations.

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