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Denver & Rio Grande is one of those entertaining 1950's "B-plus" Westerns -- that is a "B" picture cast but top-notch "A" production values. This Technicolor oater about a right-away shooting fight between rival railway companies now qualifies as a minor classic of the genre. Not for the dramatic acting or Frank Gruber's average screen play, but because of high powered action sequences in, on, and around authentic 19th Century railroad rolling stock, all enveloped in gloriously scenic Colorado Rocky Mountain locations.Unlikely leading boy Edmond O'Brien is one of yours truly's favourite actors, whether he is in a lead or a helping role. But Eddy looks somewhat uncomfortable in his Western togs, even a tiny peaked at times, as if all that Rocky Mountain sunshine and new air disagreed with his constitution. Should be he was wishing to be back in one of those dimly lighted, smoke-filled, noir bars which were his more typical cinema habitat. A much more familiar face to the celluloid Western environment, tall, stiff actor Sterling Hayden is cast vs kind here as the ruthless leader of the terrible guys. You may have thought Hayden was stiff in his more typical heroic roles, but as a villain in Denver & Rio Grande, he's so wooden it's hard to distinguish him from one of the telegraph poles. Dean Jagger, as real-life railroad builder General William J. Palmer, adds a touch of class to the cast, but doesn't have much to do. He looks like he's about to go to sleep through most of the picture, but as always, he has his moments. On the another hand leading lady Laura Elliot (aka Kasey Rogers), greatest known for her role in famous TV sitcom Bewitched, shows a tiny spark as the General's cute secretary with a grudge vs O'Brien. The ever reliable J. Carrol Naish, often seen as a gangster or a cynical cop, refreshingly gets a sympathetic, clean-cut role as the nattily attired railroad construction engineer. But never mind, the true stars of this picture are superb Rocky Mountain scenery and the thrilling, nostalgic steam locomotives.If the dramatic acting of the fine cast did not seem up to par, you can blame flabby direction by director Byron Haskin, who was more of a unique results technician than a director anyway. But once the action sequences start, Haskin is in his element. Denver & Rio Grande is nothing if not action-packed, and isn't that what we all love in Westerns? When the two railroad companies receive serious about going after every other, they employ military strategies along with prolific volleys of (mostly inaccurate) gunfire from railroad vehicles to take and re-take miles of track and telegraph stations. One of the top action scenes is the current "head-on collision of two bull locomotives", as it was heavily advertised at the time of the picture's 1952 release. The effect is not disappointing, though Haskin cheated a bit with a dynamite explosion at the mission of impact to create the shock of collision more spectacular. He really had to. Those old locomotives were such solidly constructed masses of steel, they should have just bounced apart without showing much apparent hurt or the desired boiler explosions. By the way, as a minor point, this much ballyhooed train wreck does not happen at the climax of the movie, as stated by Leonard Maltin and others. It is one of the happenings building toward the climax, and it occurs quite some time before the end of the picture.Denver & Rio Grande is a nicely turned out Western. The sets are very good, though most of the scenes are filmed in the nice outdoors. Costumes are real to the time, place, and occupation of the characters. Particularly impressive were the authentic looking six-gun leather and the colourful tons of hats. The chubby O'Brien liked to foster an everyman image, and he did tiny to improve his unglamorous looks. Here his rough working boy outfit contains a floppy black hat which looks as if it has been roundly stomped on by a couple of overweight saloon floozies. But it is the trains steaming around the mountains, the water tanks, stations, piles of cross-ties, telegraphs, and another helping railroad equipment that really grab the eye. The perfect train sound results made all of this as stimulating to hear as to see.For all its flaws this is a highly entertaining picture. If you are a fanatic of exciting, flavorful Western action with chugging, puffing, hissing, clanging, whistling, steaming, smoke-belching, greasy, sooty, oil-dripping, jerking, screeching, cinder-flinging Nineteenth Century trains -- and how should anyone not be -- Denver & Rio Grande will take you where you can search it!
What we have here is the typical western shoot-up between two rival railway companies attempting to build through the Colorado Rockies. What makes this movie somewhat special is the head-on collision of two trains engineered by the "bad guys." The collision is for real! The Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad provided two narrow-gage trains that we destined for the scrap-heap for the Large Scene. With adequate dynamite placed on the engines, the ruin was carried off. There were, obviously, no re-takes. After close-ups, the engines were hauled off to the steel-mills at Pueblo. A nice Western that rail buffs will appreciate.
"Denver & Rio Grande" is probably greatest remembered for its spectacular head on ruin of two vintage trains. Reportedly, two current trains were used in the sequence. I don't think there were any re-takes. The plot is the old one about the two competing railroads trying to outdo the another by nook or by crook. Edmond O'Brien (it's about THAT hat) is the problem shooter for the Denver & Rio Grande. Dean Jagger is the head boy and J. Carroll Naish the designing engineer. Laura Elliott is the love interest who thinks that O'Brien shot her brother (Don Haggerty), but of course he didn't. Because of her belief she has been feeding critical notification to baddies Sterling Hayden and Lyle Bettger. It all leads to the final showdown featuring the above-mentioned ruin and Elliott finding out who the true assassin was. Zasu Pitts and Paul Fix (as the stereo-typical Irish engineer) deliever the comedy relief. "Denver & Rio Grande" is full of spectacular scenery and railroad shots that will satisfy the most avid train lover. And there's the crash. A better than average 50's western.
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