powered by AFI
In classic film noir, the leading characters are sometimes service members returning home from World War II, so alienated and psychologically unhinged from their combat experiences that they're unable to settle back into normal society. In The Man from Colorado (1948), a western made at the height of the film noir era, two soldiers, played by Glenn Ford and William Holden, return home to Colorado from an earlier war -- the Civil War. Ford becomes a federal judge and appoints Holden as marshal. But Ford bears psychological damage and becomes a tyrant, unfair and uncompromising, leading the town -- and his friend -- to gradually turn against him. Not helping matters is that both men fall for the same woman (Ellen Drew).
Columbia Pictures spent quite a bit on this film. At one point the crew dynamited the side of a 1500-foot mountain in California's San Fernando Valley in order to create a deep gorge as called for by the script. And the western town they constructed was one of the largest location sets ever built by Columbia up to that time. During filming of a massive fire scene at the end, however, the set caught fire uncontrollably, and Holden and Ford tried to actually fight the fire until firemen could arrive. "Dad came away coated in black soot, with burns to his arms and hands," Ford's son Peter later wrote.
Columbia had borrowed Holden from Paramount for this picture, and he and Ford greatly enjoyed working together for the second and last time in their careers, following Texas (1941). The two had started working in Hollywood at the same time and followed very similar career trajectories, maintaining a playful competitiveness and a deep friendship over their whole lives.
The Man from Colorado opened in late 1948 as the lead film of a double bill with Manhattan Angel (1949), a B film starring Gloria Jean. It received uniformly excellent reviews, with Variety calling it "a fine, tense western melodrama" and The Hollywood Reporter declaring it to be "a good story, a thrilling production, [with] fine performances and dynamic direction... Glenn Ford's performance of the sadistic judge is one of his best."
The film's satisfying story and good notices belied some tense drama going on behind the scenes. Originally, the movie was to have been directed by Edmund Goulding, but he was replaced in preproduction by Charles Vidor. Vidor had previously directed Glenn Ford in Gilda (1946) and three other pictures, but at the moment, the two men did not get along.
A few months earlier, Ford had testified against Vidor in court. Vidor, who had just married Harry Warner's daughter Doris, wanted to get out of his Columbia contract so he could work at the more prestigious Warner Brothers. To that end, he sued Columbia and its chief Harry Cohn, claiming that Cohn's verbal abuse over the years was grounds for termination of contract and other damages. Glenn Ford was among those who testified that Cohn's rants were generally not to be taken seriously, that it was just the way Cohn operated. Ironically, Vidor's case was punctured even more when other witnesses testified as to Vidor's own temper tantrums on his film sets.
In any event, Vidor now hated Glenn Ford so much that he refused to speak to him even on the set, relaying direction instead through an assistant. Eventually, Ford complained to Cohn, who at first didn't care, but ultimately fired Vidor off the picture and placed him on suspension because he was moving too slowly and causing the film to go over budget. Some historians have written that Vidor dragged out the shooting purposefully, as a way of retaliating against Cohn. Cohn replaced Vidor with director Henry Levin (who received sole screen credit), but the shoot still wound up almost doubling in length.
According to a 1948 news clipping, a brooch that Ellen Drew wears in a ballroom scene is the actual brooch worn by the wife of Colorado's first governor, William Gilpin, at a June 1861 inaugural ball. Gilpin's great-great-granddaughter, identified as "an ardent fan of Drew's," lent her the heirloom for the film. "Miss Drew gladly accepted," said the article, "but she was on pins and needles during filming of the scenes for fear something might happen to the valuable brooch."
by Jeremy Arnold
Michelangelo Capua, William Holden: A Biography
Peter Ford, Glenn Ford: A Life