What an oddball little western this is. It opens with Dick Powell’s stranger riding into town and checking into a hotel run by a guitar strumming (and uncredited) Burl Ives who just happens to be singing about a stranger riding into town. At this point we’re not seeing any western conventions being stretched. However, as soon as this slight figure crosses the street, enters the saloon and starts to throw out the kind of wise cracks and casual insults that would surely earn anyone the ass-kicking of a lifetime, we can be sure this is no average oater.
Powell is not really your average western hero, and here this is explained by his being an undercover army intelligence officer. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that Powell isn’t tough enough to be a westerner (a brutal and well photographed brawl with Guinn “Big Boy” Williams leaves that in no doubt) but he doesn’t sound like a cowboy. In truth, this is a lot of what makes the picture so entertaining. If you are familiar with Powell’s role in Murder, My Sweet then this film will conjure images of Marlowe riding the range.
Another thing the movie has going for it is the cast. In addition to Powell we have Jane Greer, playing another dangerous vamp, who seems to own the whole town. Agnes Moorehead is Powell’s contact with the army, and Raymond Burr is the town lawyer with a gambling problem – all wide-eyed weakness and far removed from Perry Mason. The aforementioned Williams doesn’t have much to do here except look mean, but (as with Ward Bond) I find something reassuring about the presence of his familiar mug in a film. Burl Ives’ small role as “either the town poet or the village idiot” is also most welcome.
The plot revolves around hijacked gold shipments but, in a Chandleresque way, it doesn’t seem so important. The real joy here is the fusion of hard-boiled noir dialogue with western locales. If you are seeking an authentic and gritty representation of the Old West, then look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you are a fan of westerns and noir and want to see the best elements of both working in tandem, then Station West is worth a look.
The film is available on DVD from France in a transfer that is just adequate. It’s an RKO picture so it may get a R1 release from Warner one day, although the company seems to show little appetite for westerns right now.