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Film / Canyon Passage

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Canyon Passage is a 1946 Technicolor Western film directed by Jacques Tourneur and set in frontier Oregon. It stars Dana Andrews, Susan Hayward and Brian Donlevy.

In 1856, backwoods businessman Logan Stuart escorts Lucy Overmire, his friend's fiancée, back home to remote Jacksonville, Oregon; in the course of the hard journey, Lucy is attracted to Logan, whose heart seems to belong to another. Once arrived in Jacksonville, a welter of subplots involve villains, fair ladies, romantic triangles, gambling fever, murder, a cabin-raising, and vigilantism... culminating with an Indian uprising that threatens all the settlers.

Canyon Passage contains examples of:

  • Altar the Speed: George and Lucy have been engaged for an indeterminate period of time (certainly months, and possibly years). Lucy is pushing for him to set a date, but he keeps putting it off as he wants to strike it rich first. Then George suddenly surprises her by announcing that he'll marry her this coming Sunday. What Lucy doesn't know is that's doing it because he plans to skip town immediately afterwards. Fate intervenes before the wedding can take place, however.
  • Arrows on Fire: Used by the Indians to set fire to the covered wagon leading the mule train.
  • Barn Raising: The entire community gathers for a 'cabin raising'; banding together to build a cabin for a young couple. At the end of the day, the couple are married in the new cabin and the whole town celebrates.
  • Betty and Veronica: Logan is torn between two women: the worldly and adventurous Lucy, and the quiet homebody Caroline. Interestingly, the normal hair colours are reversed, with Lucy being blonde and Caroline a brunette.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: During his fight with Bragg in the saloon, Logan smashes a chair over Bragg's head.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Logan has no scruples about breaking a bottle or a chair over Bragg's head, or tricking him into punching a post.
  • Death of a Child: A female settler and her baby are cut down onscreen by the Indians, and when Logan and his posse arrive at the Dance homestead, they learn that Ben Dance and his 10 year old son Asa have been killed.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: George is Killed Offscreen by one of the townsmen. This frees Lucy to marry Logan.
  • Determined Homesteader: Ben Dance and his family. They have staked out their claim and are determined to hold it against whatever the frontier throws at them.
  • The Eeyore: Logan's clerk Clenchfield is constantly predicting ruin and disaster. In the end, he is proved right (but Logan doesn't care as it just means he gets to start all over again).
  • Fatal Flaw: George is a gambling addict, and it is this addiction—combined with a desire to find an easy way to get rich quick (as opposed to Logan, who has gotten wealthy through hard work and the willingness to take risks)— that eventually destroys him, as his debts mount and drag him into theft, murder and eventually death, as he is shot by the posse as he attempts to escape town before he can be lynched.
  • Flaying Alive: Bragg is scalped by the Indians when the finally catch him. He was probably dead by the time they took his scalp.
  • The Gambling Addict: George is a compulsive gambler. Logan and Lucy both try to get him to stop, but to no avail.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: When Bragg tries to jump Logan in the barroom, Logan is ready for him and smashes a full bottle of whiskey over his head.
  • I Call It "Vera": Hi's mandolin is named 'Mandy'.
  • Injun Country: The Indians are a background threat through most of the movie, with rumours of attacks and deaths filtering in to town. Then Bragg provokes them into a full-scale uprising. Interestingly, early on Dance observes that the land was originally the Indians and that folks would do well to remember that in their dealings with them: an enlightened sentiment for both the time the movie is set and the time it was made.
  • Kangaroo Court: When George is accused of murder, he is tried by a miner's court that has no legal standing: something Jonas, the town's lawyer, keeps pointing out. He is found guilty anyway.
  • Killed Offscreen: George Camrose. Johnny reports the death to Logan at the end of the film, and hands Logan the gun he had given him. Logan asks if it was the Indians who killed him, and Johnny admits it was one of the townsmen. He adds that if things had happened slightly different, they might have been lynching Logan on the hanging tree.
  • Look Behind You: Bragg tries this against Logan just before their fight in the bar starts. Bragg directs a question to the bartender, who is standing behind Logan, expecting Logan to turn so he can hear the reply. Logan starts to turn and, as he does so, Bragg attempts to blindside him with a punch. However, Logan was expecting this and counters with some Grievous Bottley Harm.
  • Love Triangle: Two overlapping love triangles. Lucy Overmire is engaged to George Camrose, whose best friend is Logan Stuart. As a result of spending a prolonged length of time in each other's company, Lucy and Logan develop feelings for each other, but neither will act for fear of hurting George. Meanwhile, Logan is engaged to Caroline Marsh. Vane Blazier is in love with Caroline and, noting Logan's interest in Lucy, warns him not to do anything that would hurt Caroline. Ultimately everything is resolved when George commits murder and goes on the run before being shot by the posse chasing him. Caroline realises that she doesn't share Logan's ambitions, and releases him from him promise so he can leave to pursue his dream. Logan and Lucy ride off together to rebuild Logan's fortune, and Vane proposes to Caroline, with the two of them planning to settle down and start a farm.
  • The Magic Poker Equation: The Gambling Addict George loses on a king high straight to Professional Gambler Lestrade, who has an ace high straight. The movie is unclear if Lestrade is cheating (which Hi implies) or if George is just that unlucky.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: A brief scene has Logan and Lucy meeting a homesteader family who are moving. The patriarch of the family says they are leaving Fall River because it is getting too crowded there. Then, as the wagon moves past, Logan and Lucy (and the audience) sees a vast number of children strung out behind the wagon.
  • Never Trust a Title: What canyon?
  • Nosy Neighbour: Hi is a relatively sympathetic example. He regards himself as "an observer of his fellow humans" rather than a snoop, and there is really not much else for an intellectual to do in Jacksonville expect people watch. He is peeking through George's shutters when he sees George stealing Mac's gold dust.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The film ends with Logan and Lucy riding out of Jacksonville together, as he leaves town to rebuild his fortune.
  • Outdoor Bath Peeping: After Bragg ambushes Logan and Lucy in the forest, he comes across two Indian girls bathing in a pool. He later murders (and probably rapes) one of them.
  • Posse: Although not a legal posse, as Jacksonville has no sheriff, Logan organizes a body of 60 men to ride out and fight the Indian war party.
  • Professional Gambler: Lestrade is a professional gambler who makes his living skinning the miners in Jacksonville. He holds George's IOUs and keeps dragging him in deeper.
  • Prospector: Being a mining town, Jacksonville is filled with prospectors. Poor, doomed 'Mac' MacIver probably best fits the stereotype.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: When Bragg comes upon the Indian girls bathing in the pool, he is seen advancing on them with a lecherous look on his face before the shot cuts. The next we hear is that Bragg had murdered an Indian girl, and it is hard to imagine he did not rape her first.
  • The Savage Indian: Zigzagged. Early on, there is some sympathy from the settlers to the Indians' plight, and some amiable - if guarded - interactions between the settlers and Indians. However, once the Indians are provoked into uprising, they are brutal: killing men, women and children indiscriminately. (And scalping Bragg, who was the one who triggered the war.)
  • Scenery Porn: Logan and Lucy's journey from Portland to Jacksonville seems designed to showcase as much of Oregon's marvelous wilderness as possible.
  • Self-Made Man: Logan Stuart built up his freighting business from almost nothing to become one of the richest men in the Oregon territory. At the end of the film, most of his fortune is destroyed when his business is burnt down, but he just views this an opportunity to start over and do it all again.
  • Settling the Frontier: Jacksonville is a small settlement on the very edge of the frontier.
  • Signature Item Clue: After Mac is murdered, his trademark lucky gold nugget is found in George's possession. Combined with Hi having seen him steal gold dust from the company safe, this makes a pretty airtight case against him.
  • Stealing from the Till: George pilfers gold dust from the express office safe to cover his gambling debts.
  • Super Window Jump: When Bragg exits Logan's hotel room via the window, he doesn't bother to open it first. He does not escape completely unscathed as the next time he is seen, he is limping.
  • Window Watcher: The incurably nosy Hi is peeking the gap in George's shutters when he sees George stealing Mac's gold from the safe.