It was a great train wreck. Two old belly-chimneyed, smugde puffing rail riders came at each other on a narrow guage track, and with the help of some well-placed blasting powder, blew their red and gold gothic hot boxes over half an acre of mountain scenery. It was a magnificent thing to behold. It would have been even more satisfying had it come at the beginning of the picture, with the whole cast aboard.
For this drama of early capitalism's fight with the wild west, Paramount toted a dozen has-beens, a handful of heavies, and an old engine left over from The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe up the Great Divide, hashing the plot together on the way.
It's a natural, see? We got these two railroad companies fighting for the right to run a track over the gorge, one bossed by a tough guy (we'll put a beard on him) who is a louse, and the other by a tougher guy (clean shaven) who's O.K. Then he can fall for this pretty secretary, who's really a spy for the other side. The good company ("without whose help and cooperation this picture could never have been filmed") will have this old general, loved and respected by all his men, as the capitalist in charge. Then there's a big fight, a little comedy routine to take off the pressure, and the company goes through.
The dialogue was written on location, between scenes. The wooley surroundings inspired such filets as, "Awright, you guys, let's get 'em" (repeated at least once in every scene), "If they think we're gonna let 'em get away with that...," and "Let's go, men. We've got a railroad to build."
Edmond O'Brien has put on a little weight since his last blazing saga, and has a little trouble bounding over the roofs of moving box cars. His expression, long ago worn into the lines on his face, remains an unchanging leer. Dean Jaeger, the benevolent millionnaire on the verge of ruin, looks more the romantic lead than O'Brien. Whisker-checked Sterling Hayden might be taken for a goodie if you sit down in the middle of the picture. But the audience is lulled into believing that jowled O'Brien is the hero, because his leading lady is also jowled.
Zazu Pitts, long hoped retired or committed, returns to the screen with a plop as the comedy relief, which is neither comic nor relieving. It rather adds to the strain. In short, there is little more universally entertaining that a western, especially in technicolor, even when written to a formula. But if action becomes drudgery, if lines are sighed instead of spat, and if actors look like hod-carriers hurrying to get a union-day's work done, the series of scenes moves like a man blind with amnesia. LAURENCE D. SAVADOVE