Saturday 23 September 2017

Movie Review: Albuquerque (1948)

A routine western, Albuquerque enjoys a couple of rousing moments but never rises above its humble ambitions.

A stagecoach on the way to Albuquerque is held up by a gang of thugs and passenger Celia Wallace (Catherine Craig) is robbed of $10,000. Fellow traveler Cole Armin (Randolph Scott) rescues young Myrtle Walton from inside the runaway wagon. Once in Albuquerque, Cole realizes that his uncle John Armin (George Cleveland), a ruthless and widely despised but wheelchair-bound freight line tycoon, runs the town and masterminded the holdup to try and shut down the rival business of Celia and her brother Ted (Russell Hayden).

Cole abandons his uncle and goes into business with the Wallaces, and with the help of grizzled wagon driver Juke (George "Gabby" Hayes) they start winning contracts to transport ore along dangerous mountain trails. John, his chief goon Steve Murkil (Lon Chaney, Jr.) and the corrupt Sheriff Ed Linton (Bernard Nedell) do all they can to sabotage their upstart rivals, including recruiting the beautiful Letty Tyler (Barbara Britton) as an undercover corporate spy.

Not exactly a B western but perhaps no more than a B+, Albuquerque suffers from a bland script, predictable characters, asinine plot developments and wooden acting from an underpowered cast. Most of the shootout scenes are poorly staged, and the dialogue is of the plastic variety.

On the positive side, director Ray Enright has an eye for the interesting perspective and often disarmingly finds clever angles. Enright also knows a highlight when he sees one, and delivers a solid sequence of suspense with an out-of-control ore-filled wagon pulled by 12 mules hurtling down a narrow mountain pass. The film was shot in Cinecolor, the poorer cousin of Technicolor, but Enright makes the most of the excessively vivid palette and does a decent job stitching together scenic location shots with in-studio close-ups.

But the good elements are undone by a mechanical plot filled with gaping holes, cheapish production values and the most basic good guy - bad guy characterizations. The opening stage coach robbery sequence sets the tone, a poorly edited mess in which the bandits seem to simply vaporize after a few shots are exchanged. Later Cole has the remarkable ability to never miss a shot while his opponents of course can never find the target. The cast surrounding Scott is talent-challenged, with Enright over-reliant on George "Gabby" Hayes' old codger schtick. However, George Cleveland in a wheelchair is an effective villain.

Albuquerque is passable for what it is, a below average western ticking off the most conventional boxes for an undemanding audience.

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