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Santa Fe

"Randolph Scott, who has fought more Indians, slugged more renegades and laid more miles of western track than any other laborer in the Hollywood rail yards, is at it again," declared a critic for Cue magazine in 1951. The critic was speaking of Santa Fe (1951), a picture that would garner Scott his best reviews in years. The perennial western star was churning out westerns so frequently at this point that they had had long since taken on the label of "routine." However, an important new element had recently been thrown into the mix in that Scott had formed a production company with venerable producer Harry Joe Brown. Together the pair would produce fourteen westerns for Columbia (all starring Scott), a string of films culminating with the excellent series of westerns directed by Budd Boetticher in the late 1950s. But in the early days of the partnership, before Boetticher came along, a Scott-Brown western was still almost always better than a Randolph Scott western produced by someone else.

Santa Fe is a case in point. Based on a novel by James Vance Marshall called Santa Fe, the Railroad That Built an Empire, it's about four brothers from the south, who, bitter over the loss of their plantation after the Civil War, head west. Scott takes a job with the Santa Fe Railroad, but his three brothers become outlaws; inevitably, Scott must battle them while building the railroad and romancing lovely Janis Carter.

Reviews of the time all praised the fast, action-packed entertainment value of Santa Fe, which was photographed in Technicolor by Charles (Buddy) Lawton, Jr., an ace cameraman who would shoot nine Scott westerns in all, including three for director Budd Boetticher. The Hollywood Reporter described the film as a "big time western...vigorous, convincing adventure fare...superbly photographed." Daily Variety called the story "topnotch... a worthy credit right down the line for producer Harry Joe Brown." And weekly Variety praised the script for "an expert job of establishing character without overlooking any opportunities to introduce action -- the most essential ingredient for this type of feature. Irving Pichel's direction is fast and rugged."

This was one of Pichel's last films, as he would die of a heart attack three years later. While he is forgotten today, and has never been especially lauded by modern film historians, he did direct three dozen features and proved himself adept at a variety of genres and styles, including thrillers like The Most Dangerous Game (1932), dramas like The Man I Married (1940), comedies like The Bride Wore Boots (1946), film noir like They Won't Believe Me (1947), science fiction like Destination Moon (1950), and westerns. Pichel also discovered Natalie Wood, casting her in bit roles in two 1943 films (Happy Land and The Moon Is Down) before giving her much more significant parts in Tomorrow Is Forever (1946) and The Bride Wore Boots.

According to author Robert Nott (The Films of Randolph Scott), actor John Archer once described Pichel as "a very easygoing, swell guy. He had an actor's approach because he was an actor. [He was] very protective..., very understanding and very good. He could give you a lot." Pichel, in fact, has a small acting part in Santa Fe, playing a character named "Harned."

Some final trivia notes:

At one point, this film purports to illustrate where the names of the famous railroad lines "Chief" and "Super Chief" came from. After an Indian hops on board and drives a locomotive in one sequence, Randolph Scott tells him, "You're all right, chief. Maybe some day we'll name a train after you."

Santa Fe opened on a double bill with the 'B' film Fury of the Congo (1951), a Jungle Jim movie starring Johnny Weissmuller -- "an opus of which nobody can be proud," the L.A. Examiner critic wrote.

Producer: Harry Joe Brown
Director: Irving Pichel
Screenplay: Kenneth Gamet, Louis Stevens (story), James Vance Marshall (novel)
Cinematography: Charles Lawton, Jr.
Film Editing: Gene Havlick
Art Direction: Walter Holscher
Music: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Randolph Scott (Britt Canfield), Janis Carter (Judith Chandler), Jerome Courtland (Terry Canfield), Peter Thompson (Tom Canfield), John Archer (Clint Canfield), Warner Anderson (Dave Baxter).
C-87m.

By Jeremy Arnold
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