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FOUR FACES WEST (aka: THEY PASSED THIS WAY) (director: Alfred E. Green; screenwriters: C. Graham Baker/William Brent/Teddi Sherman/from the book “Paso por Aqui” by Eugene Manlove Rhodes; cinematographer: Russell Harlan; editor: Edward Mann; music: Paul Sawtell; cast: Joel McCrea (Ross McEwen), Frances Dee (Fay Hollister), Charles Bickford (Pat Garrett), Joseph Calleia (Monte Marquez), John Parrish (Frenger), William Conrad (Sheriff Egan), Raymond Largay (Dr. Eldredge), Dan White (Clint Waters), Davison Clark (Burnett), George McDonald (Winston Boy); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Harry Sherman; Republic/United Artists; 1948)
“A sensitive and quaint western, with an irrepressible charm.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Alfred E. Green directs in a spirited way a story by New Mexico writer Eugene Manlove Rhodes entitled “Paso por Aqui” (“They Passed This Way”). The film’s original title They Passed This Way refers to the many brave travelers to New Mexico, mostly from Mexico, who contributed to America’s civilization and whose names were carved on Inscription Rock (El Morro National Monument).

Four Faces West stars the real-life husband and wife team of Joel McCrea and Frances Dee. McCrea plays Ross McEwen the unlikely outlaw who holds up the bank in the small New Mexico town of Santa Maria. It’s on the same day the celebrated marshall Pat Garrett (Charles Bickford) has relocated his headquarters there and is giving a ‘law and order with justice’ speech. McEwen rides into town and asks banker Frenger (John Parrish) for a loan of $2,000. When the banker asks the stranger about security for a loan that large, McEwen pulls out his six-gun and says “that’s my collateral.” The honest man turned criminal to save his father’s ranch gives the banker an I.O.U. signed “Jefferson Davis,” indicating he has every intention of paying back the stolen money. McEwen rides out of town and ditches his horse to catch a train, but when he ditches his saddle under a rock he’s bitten by a rattlesnake. Meanwhile, the irate banker offers a $3,000 reward for the outlaw’s capture Dead or Alive. The more restrained Garrett rounds up a posse, and orders those who follow to obey the law and try to take him alive.

On the train, nurse Fay Hollister (Frances Dee), from the east, treats McEwen and falls in love with the taciturn and polite man. Monte Marquez (Joseph Calleia) is a Mexican, who settled in America with his large family and owns a casino in Alamagordo–the same town where the nurse is reporting to duty in the new hospital.

Both Fay and Monte soon realize that McEwen is a bank robber, but are so impressed with his demeanor that they do not turn him in. Meanwhile Garrett pursues the outlaw into the desert, but begins to have a good feeling about the bandit when he learns he has returned some of the bank money. When the honest marshall comes across McEwen in an isolated desert farmhouse and realizes that he could have easily escaped across the border but instead stopped to help a large Mexican family who were near death suffering from diptheria, Garrett cuts a fair deal with McEwen in the best interest of justice.

It’s an old-fashioned western, where straight goodness overcomes any cynicism. It’s a more emotionally charged western than an action-packed one, which is probably why it did a poor box-office on its theatrical release. But over the years it gained favor as a sensitive and quaint western, with an irrepressible charm.

McCrea and Dee have enough chemistry together to stock a science lab. Veteran B-film Western producer Harry Sherman, known as the one who first brought Hopalong Cassidy to the big screen, goes all out to make the production classy with a million dollar budget. Cinematographer Russell Harlan does a splendid job with his black and white photography, capturing the beauty and loneliness of the desert vistas.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”