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Reviews Women of the West

Colorado Territory

Colorado Territory

Raoul Walsh

USA, 1949


Review by Jenny Jediny

Posted on 01 August 2009

Source TCM Broadcast

Categories Women of the West

It’s disappointing to discover how little of “Colorado” there is in Colorado Territory; not the Centennial State, but Ms. Colorado Carson, former dance-hall girl turned train robbery accomplice. In remaking his earlier film, High Sierra, (which I’ve not seen, perhaps best in terms of leniency on this revamped version), Raoul Walsh doesn’t appear to have improved on his original, but does touch on two female stereotypes that would continue to proliferate within the genre, eventually resulting in far more fleshed-out results.

Also cast in Walsh’s White Heat as Cagney’s double-crossing moll, Virginia Mayo’s role as Colorado is potentially fiery; instantly deemed a distraction by Wesley McQueen, the escaped outlaw heading up the train robbery Colorado’s current man plans to take part in, Colorado proves she has brains behind beauty. Laying it on the line for McQueen, she drops her gap-mouthed, bombshell antics and goes domestic. However, Colorado’s toned-down sexuality, while reinforcing the stereotype that bad girls must go good to get their man, does provide some credibility to the love quadrilateral she’s become entangled in.

Wes - portrayed by Joel McCrea, who despite his manly appearance remains a bit soft as an outlaw - loves two other “good” girls: Martha, his “true” love, who is dead and buried in Missouri, and Julie Ann (played by Dorothy Malone, an instant give-away that she probably doesn’t have that heart of gold Wes dearly craves). In missing Martha, Wes projects whatever her excellent qualities must have been on to Julie Ann, whom he rescues (along with her dotty old dad) from an attempted stagecoach robbery. Julie Ann’s genteel demeanor affects Wes, and he resolves that this next job will be his last, setting him — and his potential lady — up for life.

While aggressively pursued and discussed as highly dangerous by the local jurisdiction, Wes is a fairly noble outlaw; the combination of the gentleman with the well-versed thief suits Colorado, a definitive survivor who seeks acceptance not only for a tawdry background, but her semi-outcast societal status. Reminiscent of King Vidor’s Duel in the Sun, Colorado is, like Jennifer Jones’ Pearl, also biracial, her Native-American background rendering her both exotic and a second-class citizen.

Mayo’s somewhat of a watered down Jennifer Jones (although she does easily overpower Malone in a sudden catfight), but Walsh’s aim isn’t to solely explore Colorado, nor elevate her character alone; both Colorado and Wes are the heroes in Colorado Territory, as their outcast status not only binds them romantically, but together against the established law.

With some stand-out scenes, such as Wes’s prison escape (with the aid of a kindly old lady), Colorado’s blowsy introduction, and the big heist, Colorado Territory is an enjoyable Western, if not a very original one. As Colorado, Mayo has a handful of moments, but Malone’s Julie Ann is a bit lost in the shuffle, especially with her third-act change of character (in tune with Malone’s juicier roles, but not developed here). While settling and surviving the real Colorado territory had to have been an eye-opener, the reserved nature of the incidents here hardly reflect that haphazard life, reminding us more of the soundstage than the stagecoach.

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