Directed by Paul Landres
Written by Jack DeWitt
Based on the novel by Gordon D. Shirreffs
Director Of Photography: Ellis Carter
Music by Paul Dunlap
Film Editor: Maury Wright
Cast: John Ericson (Lt. Niles Ord), Lola Albright (Sylvia Dane), Toni Gerry (Little Deer), Edward Platt (Major Roland Dane), H.M. Wynant (Black Eagle), Rachel Ames (Marion), Walter Barnes (Sgt. Jed Erschick), Harvey Stephens (Capt. Boyson), Jon Shepodd (Lt. Baird Dobson), Paul Fierro (Nato)
Director Paul Landres worked largely in TV, with a feature from time to time. My Paul Landres binge continues, inspired by the DVD and Blu-ray release of The Return Of Dracula (1958) from Olive Films.
Landres got his start as an editor, cutting series Westerns and serials at Universal, and made the move to director in the very early 50s — in both features and TV. He retired after a 1972 episode of Adam-12.
Oregon Passage is an Allied Artists Western from 1958, shot on location in Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest, in both CinemaScope and DeLuxe color. These gorgeous vistas, in color and ‘Scope, and a really good score form Paul Dunlap give the picture production values beyond what we’re used to in a Landres picture. The fort, which had appeared in The Indian Fighter (1955), is impressive. The small Indian camp and undermanned cavalry patrols do give things away, however. No matter, this is one of Landres’ best.
Lieut. Niles Ord (John Ericson) returns from a month-long patrol — he’s been trying to track down the Shoshoni warrior Black Eagle — to find the fort under a new, by-the-book commanding officer, Major Dane (Edward Plat, Chief on Get Smart). Niles once dated Dane’s wife Sylvia (Lola Albright), and he’s soon battling his C.O. as much as Black Eagle. The fact that Sylvia’s grown to detest her jealous husband and life on the frontier doesn’t help much.
While Oregon Passage doesn’t always manage to ride around the usual cavalry picture conventions, it’s a tough, taut picture with a real edge to it. The action scenes, particularly the final raid on the fort, are well staged and rather brutal.
John Ericson is good as the dedicated young officer — he’d already been in Bad Day At Black Rock (1955) and Forty Guns (1957). Edward Platt is easy to hate as the despicable Major. And Lola Albright and Toni Gerry manage to flesh out fairly typical roles as the cavalry wife and Indian squaw, respectively.
Cinematographer Ellis W. Carter was a real craftsman, often working at Universal-International. He shot some of my favorites of the studio’s late-50s films: A Day Of Fury (1956), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), The Land Unknown (1957, so cool in CinemaScope!) and The Monolith Monsters (1957) — along with Showdown (1963), Audie Murphy’s last Universal picture. Carter’s outdoor work on Oregon Passage is often beautiful. He and his crew certainly made the most of their two weeks on location.
Oregon Passage is available on DVD from Warner Archive. At times, the transfer is sharp as a tack; there are problems at other times, often with the color. No doubt, these are problems with the source material used — no surprise since the picture was shot in DeLuxe Color. None of this takes away from the movie, which as a fan of Paul Landres’ work, I am overjoyed to have in my hot little hands. Recommended.
By the way, the working title for Oregon Passage was Rio Bravo. It’s easy to understand the title change, being that Howard Hawks’ own Rio Bravo (1959) was in production around the same time.