Station West

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.

Burl Ives & Dick Powell

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.

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6 thoughts on “Station West

  1. Colin

    I decided to start at the “start’. Nice write-up of what is a rather unseen and under-rated duster. Powell, Burr, Greer etc are all perfect in what is really a dust covered noir. I always bring this one up with western fans and pretty well always get a “never heard of it” response. But never had a bad comment from the same folks after they do see it.
    (have this up on IMDB)

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    • It’s almost ten years since I wrote that! I often thought about going back and tidying up some pieces i wrote way back when, but ultimately decided to leave them as they are.
      I think this film is easier to find now and I’d like to think more people have seen it, and enjoyed it.

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  2. Colin
    There is a episode of Powell’s tv series, FOUR STAR PLAYHOUSE, that you might find of interest. It is called “A Spray of Bullets” from 1955. It is a compact little western that really delivers. I have a write-up on IMDB for it. Powell plays the lead with the great bit player, Bob Wilkie, playing the villain of the piece.

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  3. There is a top episode of FOUR STAR PLAYHOUSE called “Welcome Home” from1952 worth catching. It is directed by Robert Florey from a story and screenplayby Blake Edwards. Nice bit of tv noir with nice work from the lead, Powell.

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    • Oddly enough, I was watching an episode of that series the other night, A Place Full of Strangers, and enjoyed it. I’ll have a look at Welcome Home later on.

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