James Stewart and Audie Murphy in Night Passage (1957)


(director: James Neilson; screenwriters: from the story by Norman A. Fox/Borden Chase; cinematographer: William H. Daniels; editor: Sherman Todd; music: Dimitri Tiomkin; cast: James Stewart (Grant McLaine), Audie Murphy (The Utica Kid/Lee), Dan Duryea (Whitey Harbin), Dianne Foster (Charlotte Drew), Elaine Stewart (Verna Kimball), Brandon de Wilde (Joey Adams), Jay C. Flippen (Ben Kimball), Herbert Anderson (Will Renner), Robert J. Wilke (Concho), Hugh Beaumont (Jeff Kurth), Olive Carey (Miss Vittles), Jack Elam (Shotgun), Paul Fix (Clarence Feeney), Tommy Cook (Howdy Sladen), James Flavin (Tim Riley); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Aaron Rosenberg; Universal; 1957)
“Flatly tells the familiar tale about two brothers, one bad, one good.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

James Neilson came aboard as director when Anthony Mann jumped ship at the last moment because of Borden Chase’s poor script. Jimmy Stewart wasn’t crazy about the script, but remained aboard because his part called for an accordion player and he wanted to show off his ability in an instrument he loves playing. The plot was slight and the story lacked intensity; it flatly tells the familiar tale about two brothers, one bad, one good.

Grant McLaine (James Stewart) is an ex-railroad troubleshooter; he was fired five years ago when he gave his unstable kid brother, The Utica Kid (Audie Murphy), a horse to escape a train robbery and since then his name has become mud among the railroad executives. Grant has become a drifter earning his keep by playing the accordion for nickels and dimes at frontier construction camps. But the railroad needs his help after three straight robberies of the train by the Whitey Harbin (Dan Duryea) gang. They steal the workers payroll who are laying the tracks for the stop in Junction City, Colorado. The workers haven’t been paid in a month and threaten to quit unless paid. Chief executive Ben Kimball (Jay C. Flippen) believes the gang is getting inside info and keeps it a secret that the impoverished Grant is to be a passenger and will carry the $10,000 payroll on him. Ben’s assistant Jeff Kurth doesn’t trust Grant, and makes a wager he won’t get the payroll through. But Ben’s beautiful wife Verna (Elaine Stewart) implicitly trusts Grant.

Riding with the Whitey Harbin gang is The Utica Kid, perhaps the fastest gun in Colorado. The gang stops the train but can’t find the money, and leave only after taking Verna as a hostage until they receive the payroll. Grant is knocked out and dumped in the desert by gang member Concho (Robert J. Wilke), who bears a grudge against him for stopping him torture young Joey (Brandon de Wilde, he was previously in Shane). The kid hero worships The Utica Kid, but didn’t want to participate in the train robbery. Grant before he was knocked unconscious put the money in the kid’s shoebox, where he was carrying his lunch. Joey is forced to ride withe The Utica Kid to the hideout.

Grant follows the gang to their mountain hideout by a mining shaft, and so does the Utica Kid’s nice girlfriend Charlotte Drew (Dianne Foster). They both converge on the Kid to go honest, but he rebuffs them. A shootout takes place in the mill, whereby Grant predictably redeems himself.

The Colorado scenery was splendid; the acting was fine. The film itself was underwhelming, telling a tale that hardly mattered.