Santa Fe Passage (1955)

Santa Fe Passage (1955)

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Slim Pickens realised he wasn't going to achieve fame for this movie.
Slim Pickens realised he wasn’t going to achieve fame for this movie.

Twitter Plot Summary: A disgraced wagon train scout leads a wagon train through Indian territory, and things naturally go awry.

Five Point Summary:

1. Slim Pickens?! Sweet.
2. Getting blind drunk with injuns? First mistake.
3. She’s a squaw! Shock horror!
4. Arrow… in the chest!
5. Aww, bless.

Jumping straight into things, a Native American is smacked in the face by a wagon train scout. Suspecting a war party will soon descend on the wagon train, lead scout Kirby Randolph decides to head out and intercept the natives and offer them a trade and allow the wagon train to get home unmolested. Unfortunately Randolph and his buddy, a young Slim Pickens, are themselves the unsuspecting victims of a double ruse. After spending an evening getting drunk with the surprisingly small war party, try return home to find that the wagon train was attacked, and everybody killed. Time subsequently passes and the now- disgraced Randolph takes on the job of leading another wagon train through hostile territory.

This was my first western starring John Payne. Yeah, not quite John Wayne, but close enough. Payne is moderately decent in the lead role, a bundle of neuroses and weariness backed up by cold stares and the possibility of violence erupting from him at any given moment. His performance, sorry to say, is nothing above average. He lacks the screen presence of genre contemporaries like John Wayne or even the appearances of Clint Eastwood a few years later. Despite this lack of screen magnetism, he does at least remain somewhat engaging.

Try as I might, it was difficult to watch Slim Pickens in a serious role. He’s that well known for the likes of comedic roles in the likes of Blazing Saddles and Dr Strangelove that you constantly expect him to do or say something amusing. Alas, at every possible opportunity he plays it disappointingly straight. At least with films like this under his belt he no doubt appreciated the efforts made by the likes of Mel Brooks to spoof the genre. The entire set-up of this story also appears to be the basis of genre spoof Wagons East, which isn’t exactly a gem in its own right, but does at least have fun with the genre’s tropes. None of that in Santa Fe Passage unfortunately, a film stuck in its time before the knowing nudge- wink style of movie-making reared its mocking head.

His attempts to camouflage himself against the wagon were unsuccessful.
His attempts to camouflage himself against the wagon were unsuccessful.

The location shoots, threadbare as they are, make little of the setting – it’s nowhere near as spectacular as it should be. The majority of shots take place on a sound stage which makes it look painfully cheap, and the location shots are, on far too many occasions, so close to the action that they might as well have been shot on a sound stage. At least then everything would have been consistent.

This being a 50s Western, there is of course a love story, although this one seems doomed to failure because she’s part Native American and he hates them with a passion. Part of his journey is to learn how to accept Native Americans, or at the very least accept her into his life because she ‘s not that bad looking and he’s unlikely to get very many offers given his unfortunate past. Heavy on melodrama, stereotypes and nonsense storytelling, Santa Fe Passage is hardly a classic, but it’s ideal nonsense for a Saturday afternoon.

Score: 2/5

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