Raton Pass (1951)
“”Hold Raton Pass And You Hold The Rest Of The West By The Throat!””
Director: Edwin L. Marin
Cast: Dennis Morgan, Patricia Neal, Steve Cochran
Synopsis: Homesteaders help a husband fight his wife and her gunman for their New Mexico ranch.
Hollywood Good Girl Patricia O’ Neal strays into Barbara Stanwyck territory in Edwin L. Marin’s Raton Pass, a little seen Western which rises above its B-movie status to deliver a fast-moving but overly convoluted tale of greed and treachery. It’s strange to see O’Neal playing a femme fatale, but she proves surprisingly adept at the task, although extended bouts of gunplay in the movie’s final act results in her character being largely relegated to the role of bystander.
Her character, Ann, initially appears to be your typical Western leading lady, but the way she brushes off a previously-accepted luncheon invitation from fellow stagecoach passenger Cy Van Cleave (Steve Cochran — White Heat) shortly after arriving in Raton Pass gives a clue to the true nature of her character. The man Van Cleave is brushed off for is Marc Challon (Dennis Morgan), the son of Pierre Challon (Basil Ruysdael), who just happens to own the largest ranch in the area and also has the town’s largely ineffectual sheriff (Roland Winters) in his pocket. A whirlwind romance follows, with Pierre signing over a half-share in the deeds to the ranch to his son and new daughter-in-law at the couple’s wedding.
Up to now, Raton Pass has played out like a routine Western with little so far in the way of conflict, but thinks take an unexpected turn when Ann grows dissatisfied by the dismissive way in which she’s treated by the Challon workhands. She does at least manage to talk her husband into hiring a financier and railroad man (Scott Forbes — The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel) to help fund an expansion to the ranch. And when Prentice turns out to be more amenable to Ann’s ambitious plans for the ranch they set in motion a series of events that threatens to destroy the entire Challon dynasty.
While the unexpected direction taken by Raton Pass following Marc Challon’s discovery of his wife’s infidelity with Prentice gives the movie a much needed shot in the arm, director Marin seems incapable of reining in the story, which grows increasingly hectic with each passing reel. Warring parties dash back and forth, each pursuing an agenda which clashes with that of their foes, and achieving little other than to create another plot twist which sends them all running off in another direction. It’s all insanely entertaining, but things eventually get a little silly, with one character emerging unscathed just hours after being shot in the back from a distance of maybe six feet. You and me would probably be crippled for life, but this guy’s running around like a kid before the night is out. Dennis Morgan looks a little jaded in the lead role and makes little impression — he also sings a song which brings the story screeching to a halt for a couple of minutes and achieves nothing other than to make his character look like a bit of a boob. Steve Cochran, as the devilish Van Cleave, fares a lot better, and luckily for Morgan the two of them don’t share many scenes.
Raton Pass isn’t easily found these days, but if you get the opportunity to see it you should make an effort to do so, even if it’s only to experience a young Patricia O’Neal in a rare bad girl role.
(Reviewed 16th May 2014)