Four Faces West
Cast & Crew
Alfred E. Green
While the citizens of the New Mexico town of Santa Maria are welcoming their new U.S. Marshal, Pat Garrett, Ross McEwen, posing as Jefferson Davis, is holding up the local bank. After he gives banker Frenger an I.O.U. for the $2,000 he has demanded, Ross takes him out of town and leaves him shoeless and horseless. When Frenger eventually gets back to town, he offers a reward of $3,000 for Ross, dead or alive. Hoping to board a passing train, Ross, meanwhile, turns his horse loose and hides his saddle in some brush, where he is bitten by a rattlesnake. After making a tourniquet and sucking out the venom, Ross runs after the train and boards with the help of Mexican gambler Monte Marquez. On board, Fay Hollister, a railroad nurse from the East heading to a hospital in Alamogordo, tends to his wound. When a posse discovers Ross's saddle near the railroad tracks, Garrett wonders if he may have escaped by train. Ross's escape is interrupted when news comes that the rail tracks have been washed out and all the passengers are forced to leave the train at Albuquerque, where a conductor advises them that the next train out may not arrive for a week but that a mail hack will be able to take a few passengers the next morning. Garrett, Ross, Fay and Monte decide to take the two-day mail trip, and make their first stop at a way-station near Inscription Rock. Monte translates the inscription made by conquistadores, as they journeyed by the rock: "Pasó por aquí"--"he passed this way." After their meal at the station, "wanted" posters for the Santa Maria bank robber arrive and Fay recalls that Ross boarded the train near there. Back on the train, as they are nearing Alamogordo, Fay tells Ross that if he is in any trouble, she would like to help. Ross writes a note to his father, which he sends on with the money he stole, then when the train reaches Alamogordo, he disembarks with Fay and they embrace. Monte, too, leaves the train and invites Ross to the Long Horn Saloon, which he co-owns with his cousins. Monte, who also suspects that Ross is the wanted man, helps him by introducing him to cattleman Burnett. Burnett hires him as top hand, and Ross continues to court Fay, who, aware that there is something in his past, urges him to clear himself with the law. Garrett and his deputy, Clint Waters, meanwhile, are on Ross's trail and when they reach Alamogordo, the sheriff tells them about the new man at Burnett's ranch. After Ross asks Monte to send some of his new earnings to the bank in Santa Maria and to say that it is from Jefferson Davis, Garrett comes to Monte's saloon. Although Ross is standing only a few feet away, Monte does not turn him in to Garrett. Ross then tells Fay that he must leave for a while, and presents her with a ring before riding away. Fay follows him and although he tells her about the robbery and urges her to go back, she stays with him. Garrett and a posse, as well as two bounty hunters, pursue the couple throughout New Mexico. Finally, when Ross will not give himself up, Fay leaves him and is captured by Garrett. To cross the White Sands desert, Ross exchanges his horse for a steer and, on the other side, attempts to acquire a horse at a small ranch. However, when Ross discovers that the Mexican rancher, Florencio, his wife and two sons all have diphtheria, he stays to help them. After trying a home remedy, Ross realizes that they need professional help, which is a two day ride away. In the hope of attracting someone's attention, Ross lights a fire, which is seen by Garrett and Clint. They find Ross in bad shape, so Garrett sends Clint to Alamogordo for a doctor while he stays to work alongside Ross. When Clint returns with a doctor, as well as Fay and Monte, Monte, who is Florencio's nephew, still does not identify Ross to Garrett and introduces Ross to Fay as if they had never met. Later, with Florencio and family recovering, Garrett rides off, leaving the way clear for Ross to escape. After Monte tells him that he will meet him with supplies at Inscription Rock, Ross takes off, but Garrett who has been waiting for Ross to leave, reveals that he knows who he is and talks him into giving himself up, promising to speak on his behalf. Before going with Garrett, Ross rides to Inscription Rock where he tells Fay that he is giving himself up but that they will be together soon. As a tribute to his friend's good deed, Monte tells Fay that Ross's name should be inscribed on the rock: "Ross McEwen, un caballero valiente, passed this way."
Alfred E. Green
Vernon E. Clark
Joseph C. Gilpin
Robert H. Moreland
Four Faces West
Four Faces West was actually a rare screen appearance for Dee in this period; between 1943 and 1951 she acted in only three films, due to her devotion to her young children. Even after 1951, she made only five more features.
She and McCrea display appealing chemistry here. She plays a nurse who falls in love with McCrea as he is on the run from the law after staging what may be the gentlest bank robbery in western movie history, leaving an IOU for the money he steals--or "borrows," as he sees it. He needs the money to save his father's ranch, but the law, as represented by Sheriff Pat Garrett (Charles Bickford), is constantly on his tail. Four Faces West, in fact, has the distinction of being likely the only western ever made in which not a single shot is fired. It doesn't even contain a brawl. But it's still engaging, suspenseful and underrated thanks to a compelling script, the fine work of its stars, and solid direction by the veteran Alfred E. Green.
Green had about 100 films to his credit dating back to 1916, including such fan favorites as Disraeli (1929), Baby Face (1933) and the recent The Jolson Story (1946). But he had never made a western. McCrea carried director approval on this picture, and his choice was Raoul Walsh. When Walsh proved unavailable, producer Harry Sherman suggested Green. McCrea thought for a moment before reasoning, "Al Green is a sensitive, intelligent fellow. He doesn't need to have made a western. Let him do it," he later recounted to historian Patrick McGilligan. "And he did it. It worked out great."
Four Faces West is based on a story by Eugene Manlove Rhodes first published in the Saturday Evening Post as "Paso Por Aqui," which means "Passed by Here" and refers to an etching on Inscription Rock, a real place in New Mexico that's known today as El Morro National Monument. Rhodes had been a cowboy before becoming a western writer, and he was known for supplying fine authenticity and atmosphere in his tales.
The film shot for two months in New Mexico, including around the 200-foot-high Inscription Rock, before heading to a Hollywood soundstage. According to the official production notes, the crew surveyed 7400 miles of New Mexico "by train, plane, auto and horseback" to find the right locations. The residents of San Rafael allowed their town to be transformed into 1880s Santa Maria by having telephone poles and electric wires removed and living by kerosene lamps for the duration of the shoot.
The crew also got some help from the U.S. Army, which loaned a dozen tractors and trailers to haul 225,000 pounds of equipment into a remote canyon near Gallup. And for a sequence that called for heavy cloud cover despite being filmed on a clear blue day, the commanding officer of a nearby ordnance depot agreed to detonate a large store of obsolete ammunition 48 hours ahead of schedule. The man-made clouds saved a full day's shooting.
Local Navajo Indians helped the film team hoist equipment to the tops of cliffs for some shots. The production provided box lunches to the Indian children, among other payments. "As a reward," claimed the notes, "the tribal elders swore in the entire company as honorary braves..., the largest mass induction in 50 years."
Cinematographer Russell Harlan, in the midst of a distinguished career that would garner him six Oscar nominations, concocted a smart technique in one sequence to film Frances Dee on horseback completely surrounded by fire, without resorting to the usual, complicated split-screen process. According to the production notes, he "placed the actress 24 feet away, but at an angle whereby she was caught by a coated mirror, 30 by 30 feet. Image secured by filming the mirror obviated the necessity of shooting the flames, subsequently shooting the actress, then exposing both negatives on each half of a third negative."
This was the last credit for producer Harry "Pop" Sherman, who had recently produced the much more violent western Ramrod (1947) also starring McCrea, and had a long career in the genre that included numerous Hopalong Cassidy pictures. (His daughter Teddi worked on this film as one of the screenwriters and the on-set dialogue director.) Sherman later said of McCrea: "Joel is the greatest natural western star since...Tom Mix and William S. Hart, and he's the first natural horseman I've ever seen. No trick rider, just a guy who knows how to sit on a horse with grace and authority." Sherman's sentiment was shared by many around Hollywood, and McCrea himself often spoke of his love for the genre. Dee later said, "Joel preferred westerns. He always wanted to do them. He'd say, 'If I have to do claptrap, I want to do it on a horse!'" She also said that his favorite horse, Dollar, can be seen in Four Faces West, distinguishable by the dollar sign on his hip. Dee and McCrea lived for decades on their working ranch in Thousand Oaks, Calif., north of Los Angeles, now on the National Register of Historic Places and open to the public for exhibitions and monthly screenings hosted by their grandson, Wyatt McCrea.
Despite good reviews, Four Faces West was perhaps too quiet a western to become a commercial success. Still, it helped McCrea's career and industry standing. He immediately was offered a contract at Warner Brothers for two more westerns: South of St. Louis (1949) and the excellent Colorado Territory (1949).
This film was shot under the title They Passed This Way, but was changed during postproduction to New Mexico, then to Four Faces West, then to Wanted, and finally back to Four Faces West, although They Passed This Way was kept for the British release.
By Jeremy Arnold
Michael G. Fitzgerald and Boyd Magers, Ladies of the Western
Patrick McGilligan, Interview with Joel McCrea. Focus on Film, June 1978
Robert Nott, Last of the Cowboy Heroes
Tony Thomas, Joel McCrea: Riding the High Country
Four Faces West
This film's working title was They Passed This Way. The film begins with the following dedication: "Eugene Manlove Rhodes. He grew to manhood in this valley. Most of the stories which helped build his fame as a writer had their setting in southern New Mexico. One of the best known 'Pasó Por Aquí' was based on an actual occurrence at the Little Choza which his friends set aside as a monument to his memory. This is the story of 'Pasó Por Aquí.'" Pasó Por Aquí was published in book form with and under the title of another novelette Once in the Saddle (Boston, April 1927). According to a press release, shooting was done near Gallup and Alamogordo, in the town of San Rafael, and at the White Sands National Monument, NM. Onscreen credits note that El Morro National Monument, (Inscription Rock), was photographed "by courtesy of National Park Service, Department of the Interior."
Four Faces West was Harry Sherman's last film. He died on September 25, 1952. According to modern sources, Sherman, who had made his reputation as a producer of low budget Westerns, was particularly proud of the million-dollar Four Faces West. The picture, however, was a box office flop. Contemporary reviews commented favorably on the film's lack of violence and its attempt to portray the period authentically.