Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews as I go through the process of making my own 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.
Week Fifty Five: Tennessee’s Partner & Passion
It comes as no surprise that this film is better than average since master craftsman Allan Dwan is at the helm. I was assigned the story probably five or six times over the course of my college years and always found it interesting, even producing my own short film adaptation in 2013 (though I updated the setting to a modern urban landscape). I was very curious and ultimately delighted to see how this team took Harte’s classic from short story to feature film.
I’ve said it before, John Payne is one of the best actors in Westerns and Film Noir. His performance as Tennessee only goes to prove this point as he balances a slick coolness with a tough as nails attitude. He also knows how to let the vulnerable side of his character peak through. Reagan, as his counterpart, does a good enough job but the film belongs to Payne.
I enjoyed Dwan’s picture mostly in his first two thirds. It’s nearly an interior Western, playing out at card tables and in whore’s bedrooms. In the last third, it ditches that vibe for a more traditional, outdoorsy showdown. It also loses a lot of its psychological complexity which is a shame. Like most Hollywood Westerns of that time, it rushes a happy ending. It’s not the happy part that fails to work in most of these cases; it’s how fast they come, springing up suddenly after the climax, seconds before the movie is over.
Seen on Amazon Prime.
It’s always tough to watch some of these old Hollywood films with white actors awkwardly cast as one or two minority characters. It takes a certain suspension of disbelief even in the best circumstances. Well, Allan Dwan’s Passion puts this to the test as nearly every major character is a Mexican played by a white person. As I started the film, I knew it would be a hard pill to swallow…
Unfortunately, he and the studio (who knows who to blame) also makes the terrible decision to have these caucasian performers speak as if they’re Mexican. If they’d simply cast white folks, tell us they’re all Mexicans in Mexico, and have them proceed naturally it would have been more successful. Instead, the cast fumbles with trying to make their dialog sound “Mexican”. It’s rough to say the least and also inconsistent as the actors slip in and out of it. And these are good actors! I like Wilde and DeCarlo but not here. What’s even more puzzling is that some of the minor antagonists are played by actual people of Hispanic ethnicity. What the hell were they thinking with this hodge-podge ensemble?
Looking past this to see the film is like looking through a dense fog. There are some glimmers: Dwan’s straight-forward, terse direction still stands out in parts and the section of the movie where Wilde systematically kills off the bad guys is quite entertaining, full of some inventive fights. The story is quite good and would be more fitting for a foreign film where they’re not afraid to venture into the darker sides of the human character.
Seen on Amazon Prime.