Judge Bill Treadway may be the man from Brooklyn, but he gets this western.
A man forever changed by the brutality of war.
The Man from Colorado is an unusual Western, considering when it was made and released. Most Westerns of that time were simplistic shoot-em-ups chronicling the battle of good versus evil. Audiences ate them up with relish. Imagine what audiences must have made of The Man from Colorado, then, which adds so many shades of gray and psychological battles to a seemingly simple story that it manages to transcend the genre.
Columbia TriStar has issued this atypical but fascinating Western on DVD for the first time.
Facts of the Case
Union Colonel Owen Deveraux (Glenn Ford, Gilda) is not a well man. Having just killed a surrendering army of Confederate soldiers, he returns to Colorado a hero. He is soon asked to become a federal judge and accepts. Appointed as marshal is close friend and army cohort Del Stewart (William Holden, Stalag 17).
Del begins to notice certain things that suggest Owen is far from mentally sound. As a judge, Owen seems too willing to disregard certain laws. He also enjoys condemning men to death far too much, and he sometimes goes as far as hanging without proving that the man in question is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
Adding to the complications is Caroline, the woman whom Del and Owen both love. Even after her marriage to Owen, she and Del still share an unrequited love, causing jealousy to stir within her husband.
The Man from Colorado was directed by Henry Levin, best known for light, undemanding fluff such as Where the Boys Are and Come Fly with Me. Normally I would not begin a review by mentioning the director. However, those undemanding pictures did not prepare me for this terse, psychological Western. I was genuinely surprised by the solid, thoughtful direction Levin gave his film. Levin shows a sure hand for suspense and characterization that these later films often lacked. He wisely refuses to load his film with cheap gimmicks, instead trusting the strength of the material he was given.
It is a strong screenplay indeed. The script, written by Robert D. Andrews and Ben Maddow, is chock-full of neat surprises. While the plot seems predictable and ordinary, I was pleased to see a great deal of psychology and genuine thought put into the writing. Andrews and Maddow fill their story with three-dimensional characters that the audience can really get into.
The Man from Colorado is not a simplistic battle of the flawless hero versus the evil villain. This is a film drawn in shades of gray, a film in which the hero may be as immoral as his nemesis and the villain isn't willfully evil. In an early scene Owen, the Glenn Ford character, struggles with the realization that he has murdered hundreds of men and may in fact have enjoyed it. We see the inner struggle on his face, which makes his later descent all the more chilling. Del, the William Holden character, is technically the hero, but Andrews and Maddow take a daring risk and make him a bit more unscrupulous. He doesn't want to hurt his friend, but he still harbors anger over that friend's theft of the woman he loves. Eventually when he makes his stand and says "by any means necessary," it's fascinating to see a flawed hero willfully turn to crime to bring justice to his beloved town. Try finding situations as deep in a Roy Rogers or Hopalong Cassidy flick.
The acting is first-rate. Ford and Holden were Columbia contract players at the time The Man From Colorado was made. Both were among the major stars of the period and turn in stunning performances. Ford is all the more impressive because he mainly played standard heroes. However, Gilda suggested a darker side of Ford's acting ability that had been unseen, and this film showcases that quality. Ford's acting is realistic and true in every scene. We do sympathize with his character even as he does reprehensible things. Holden's work here anticipates his turn in The Wild Bunch by about twenty years: the dirty hero. We understand why he takes the route he has chosen, and his performance imbues his character with real human qualities. Both men deserved Oscar nominations. Good performances are given by all, except by Jerome Courtland, who is a bit too stiff and green when compared to everyone else.
Columbia's disc sports a new full frame transfer. I was expecting the worst since their track record is far from good when it comes to video transfers. For example, J.W. Coop, released the same day as this disc, looked absolutely horrible. With that experience fresh in my mind, I was pleasantly surprised with the high quality of this transfer. There are surprisingly few imperfections in the print other than some stray specks and some sporadic grain. The look of early three-strip Technicolor is captured beautifully on disc. The colors are appropriately bold and sharp, which was the calling card of that early format.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The sound is excellent, considering that audio is also a weakness of many Columbia discs. The dialogue is crisp and clear, easily comprehensible and audible at all times. The score is appropriately majestic and loud. If there is a weakness, it is that some tape hiss does come through during quiet stretches of the soundtrack.
The Man from Colorado is a barebones disc, featuring only a preview gallery of trailers that appear before the main menu. I am not sure if this is really an extra, since most Columbia discs feature this. Normally, this is where I'd bitch about the lack of extras, but considering the age of the film, I'm inclined to be forgiving. Besides, the video and audio are so satisfying that nothing could bring me down by this point.
With the superb audio and video, The Man from Colorado is a disc I can easily recommend for purchase. As for the film itself, fans of classic Westerns will adore the film for being more ambitious than the standard oater programmers of the period.
Columbia TriStar is acquitted of all charges. If they can keep up the good work they did on The Man from Colorado on future discs, they'll be a legitimate candidate for Most Improved Studio.
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