Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Santa Fe Passage (Republic, 1955)

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Slim as sidekick

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Santa Fe Passage is a rather routine Republic Western with not a huge amount to recommend it. It’s in color and set in nice Utah locations, so I guess that’s something. And Slim Pickens and Leo Gordon are in it, so you can’t knock it too much.

 

It’s a wagon train/Kiowa story with John Payne as buckskin-clad scout and Slim Pickens as his sidekick – but even Slim can’t do much with the writing and directing, such as it is.

 

John Payne was a 50s beefcake actor. I think his contract had a clause in it saying that he had to remove his shirt at least once each movie. He was in 12 Westerns, 1939 – 1956, and then a few TV shows. Probably his best films were Rails into Laramie and Silver Lode, both in 1954. Probably though he was best known for The Restless Gun on TV. He was not the most charismatic of Western actors but he was solid. He had something.
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John Payne
 
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His co-star was Faith Domergue (which she always insisted be pronounced Demure, for some odd reason). Howard Hughes had met her at a party on his yacht and become infatuated with her, bought her out from Warners and put her in some of his movies, which flopped, partly because she couldn’t act very well. She later became known for cheap sci-fi and horror flicks but she did five Westerns, starting with Duel at Silver Creek with Audie Murphy, The Great Sioux Uprising with Jeff Chandler and then this one. Sorry to say it, but she wasn’t really Oscar material..
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Faith Domergue
 
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Then the bad guy is Rod Cameron. I don’t mind Rod. He was tall ‘n’ tough. I thought those pictures he did with Yvonne De Carlo were pretty trashy and later he did TV work and Eurowesterns, but he did some goodish stuff in between.
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Rod Cameron
 
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We have got heavy Anthony Caruso, always fun, as the Mexican villain Chavez and Leo Gordon the Great as the half-breed villain McLawery, so that’s good anyway. And as I say, Slim is there, doing his best to be cheery and fun. So that cheers us up.
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Sidekick Slim
 
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The Kiowa chief is Satank (George Keymas) who is stabbed in the back by Faith Domergue’s squaw mother (Faith’s a half breed too). As you doubtless know, it didn’t actually happen like that. Satank was killed in 1871 after being arrested by General Sherman and trying to escape. Still, I’m not going to blame a Western for historical inaccuracy. I’d be onto a loser there.
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Satank
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The director William Witney had been churning out serials and low-budget features Westerns since the year dot (well, 1933). Apache Rifles with Audie in 1964 was about the best, but he was competent, especially at fight scenes, whatever the budget.

 

This is an early Western with single shot muzzle-loader rifles and no pistols. No date is given but I guess it’s 1840s or something.

 

By 1955 nearly all Westerns were vaguely pro-Indian and usually featured a brave, decent scout who tried to make peace with the Comanche/Apache/Sioux (delete where not applicable) but this one harks back to the 1940s because Payne is an Indian-hater (he hates half-breeds too) and there is mucho double-crossing on both sides. It’s actually slightly unpleasant in tone, this movie.

 

I’m afraid I can only recommend it for Slim, Leo and Anthony.

 

 

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5 Responses

  1. Maybe you're underrating John Payne a bit. Granted, this isn't his best western, but he was pretty good in a few non-westerns: the original Miracle on 34th Street and Kansas City Confidential, for example

  2. Doubtless you are right. I haven't seen those.
    But I always thought he was one of the weaker Western stars.
    Jeff

  3. Jeff, maybe depending when you write or your mood or souvenirs, your own opinion varies. You are much nice to John Payne in your general article about him. Tennessee's partner, Rebel in town, Silver Lode, for instance, are pretty good and John Payne's contribution is important. JM

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