Night Passage (1957)

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Released 17-Aug-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Western Theatrical Trailer-2.35:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:28)
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1957
Running Time 86:31 (Case: 90)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By James Neilson
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring James Stewart
Audie Murphy
Dan Duryea
Dianne Foster
Elaine Stewart
Brandon de Wilde
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Dimitri Tiomkin


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    So once again the review pile brings me back to the Western genre and the ever reliable James Stewart. This time we look back a little to 1957 and the thrills of Night Passage. Whilst it is not the greatest Western ever made, this one is certainly a pretty good one in most respects, providing you understand that James Stewart was very committed to wholesome family entertainment. It was the first film to be shot in Technirama, which was pretty much a version of VistaVision.

    The story is set in Colorado in the heady days of the push west in search of fortune, and that pretty well guarantees that the railroad forms a sizeable backdrop to the story. Grant McLaine (James Stewart) is a former railroad worker who lost his job as a result of some half truths, and is now reduced to wandering around playing his accordion and singing his songs for nickels and dimes. His travels have brought him back once again to the railroad head, as the workers push the railroad westward. The guys have not been paid recently owing to the railroad payroll having been stolen by a gang lead by Whitey Hardin (Dan Duryea) three weeks in a row. Railroad boss Ben Kimball (Jay C. Flippen) summons Grant back to Junction City to offer him a job. On the way, Grant has a little interlude with a desperado known as Concho (Robert J. Wilke) who is trying to capture a runaway kid in Joey Adams (Brandon deWilde), who happened to witness the gang's last bank job. Concho comes off second best, but it all sets up a nice little story climax down the line. In Junction City, Grant happens across an old friend in Charlotte "Charlie" Drew (Dianne Foster) whom he has not seen for a while. She happens to be the girlfriend of The Utica Kid (Audie Murphy) who currently runs with the Whitey Hardin mob. This sets up another nice little story climax down the line. Still more coincidences happen when Grant visits Ben and takes on the job of getting the $10,000 payroll through to the railhead this week. The coincidence is that Verna Kimball (Elaine Stewart) is an old flame of Grant's - someone he was going to marry until she failed to back him when the going got tough. Still, she backs him now and so off heads just about everyone on the train to the railhead.

    Naturally enough, Whitey Hardin and his gang show up en-route and attempt to rob the payroll for the fourth straight week - except they cannot find it. So they take Verna hostage in order to force Ben to hand over the necessary $10,000 they don't have at the moment. Unfortunately, they don't really know how close they are to the loot - nor do they know exactly how many interested parties are going to meet at their hideout in the abandoned mining town of Pit Load. That is where things come to a head between just about everyone as Grant attempts to rescue the damsel in distress, reconcile with his younger brother, and reclaim the $10,000 he temporarily lost. Did I mention that The Utica Kid has designs along the marrying line with Charlie? With all that moralising going on, will she say yes?

    It actually is a rather nicely done story, but unfortunately that does not necessarily translate into a very well done film. Part of the problem is all that moralising going on. Okay, it is not in your face stuff but it really makes the interludes a little on the corny side and really detracts away from what was otherwise a good film with plenty of action, plenty of climaxes and enough twists to keep you guessing. Well, the latter might have done in the hands of a more experienced director. This was James Neilson's debut effort as a feature film director and when you check out his subsequent career (mainly TV stuff and lesser known Disney dross), you can pretty much guess that it really did not get much better. In this instance, he simply lacked the experience or ability to take this nicely crafted story and wring the absolute -nth degree of suspense, humour and drama out of the story, so what should have been unexpected twists were just a little too telegraphed at times. What would someone with real talent have done with this? It did not really aid matters that the film was saddled with Audie Murphy in a pivotal role. He might have been a great soldier and certainly was a handsome bloke but his acting ability would hardly be classified as anything above strictly B-grade. Whilst he tried hard, this was another role where he simply did not have the chops to really pull off the role given to him. Everywhere else is just solid, with nothing too spectacular, and some of the usual faces of Westerns turn up here.

    Where the film does score well is in the cinematography and there is plenty of fine location shooting to be found here. We will of course ignore the one or two rather obvious instances of stage sets with their painted backgrounds, and just plain enjoy that magnificent Colorado scenery.

    Whilst not a classic Western, there is still enough here to make this a better than decent matinee film. For that, it is still worthwhile checking out.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    What is not worth checking out is the lamentable mastering job that has been done here, saddling the film with a very average transfer that at times is very bad on the eyes. The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, in accordance with the original theatrical ratio, and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    Everything you need to know about this DVD is summed up in one word - aliasing. You see it here, you see it there, you see it everywhere! I read a comment somewhere recently that the acceptance of the DVD medium by the film studios and distributors is amply demonstrated by the lackadaisical approach they now seem to adopt in the presentation on DVD. I ponder that comment in light of the fact that I have only ever put one DVD into the Hall of Fame, so maybe I am tougher than most on transfers. But if that comment has any validity at all, then this DVD is a shining example of what it means. This is just a plain sloppily mastered transfer upon which no obvious effort has in the slightest been spent. Which is a pity for if it weren't for the at-times appalling aliasing, this could have been a half-way decent looking transfer.

    Fundamentally the transfer is pretty good in most respects. Sharpness is reasonable enough, as is definition and detail. The on-location stuff is really better than that too. There is little in the way of grain to be seen, and even in the darker "night-time" shots there is nothing really noticeable - quite different to the norm for films of this vintage. Shadow detail is a little lacking, though, at times. Overall, this was probably better than I was expecting.

    The colours are distinctly on the pale side here, so much so that I have not yet worked out whether it might have been deliberate. On the whole I think not, as the on-location scenery gave plenty of opportunity for something a whole lot brighter and vibrant than what we have here. Everything, right down to what should have been the shimmering bright yellow autumn leaves has a decidedly dull look to it. Whilst this does mean that we have no issues with oversaturation or colour bleed, it also ensures that there is an ever-present feeling of something lacking in the transfer. Bright primary colours lack bloom, but at least the blacks have been pretty well handled. Skin tones are reasonably natural looking.

    There are no significant issues with MPEG artefacting in the transfer, although the age of the transfer is highlighted by the slight loss of resolution in movement. We don't need to go back to the aliasing problems here, other than to mention some of the really bad examples, the ones that really give your eyes the equivalent of a raging headache. Possibly the worst example is the god-awful mess of the locomotive at 41:28, but other examples are to be noted such as the buildings at 77:56 and the wood piles at 77:12. The problem starts during the opening credits and never stops. At least the film-to-video artefacts are kept to that one, albeit horrendously consistent, problem. It is so wearing though, and makes it a chore to watch this transfer. It might have been because the aliasing had such an impact upon me, but as far as film artefacts go there did not seem to be much to worry about. The odd speck here and there, entirely expected in this sort of vintage, unrestored source material.

    This is a single layer, single sided DVD so there is no layer change to worry about.

    There is just the sole subtitle option on the DVD, being an English for the Hearing Impaired effort. They are pretty good with just the odd instance of dialogue changed around or curtailed for the sake of speed.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 effort.

    The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and is easy enough to understand. There did not seem to be any real issues with audio sync in the transfer.

    The original music score is provided by one of the greats of film scoring in Dimitri Tiomkin. It is a pretty good one too that supports the film well, as well as being a little distinctive in its own right. Just don't worry too much about James Stewart's musical contributions to the film.

    The soundtrack is quite decent with no obvious deficiencies. It seems to be consistent throughout the film and there is no obvious hiss to be bothered with (unless of course your normal listening level is way up there). There is no obvious congestion either, which aids the overall presentation somewhat.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Nothing much here, which is in accordance with the rest of the DVDs released in the same batch.

Menu

    Nothing special here, basically repeating the slick cover, but it looks okay.

Theatrical Trailer (2:28)

    Good grief, did they have to have such a strident sound blasting away at an audio level well above that for the feature? It makes all the more obvious that the audio has significant hiss problems. From a video point of view, where exactly do I start? Perhaps by saying that if you want to know how bad the film could have looked, even if they did a better job of eliminating the aliasing, then this trailer will show you. The colour is even worse than the feature, to the extent of barely being there at times, the transfer is very soft, has very poor contrast, is a little on the dark side just when it does not want to be, features aliasing and is well blighted with film artefacts. The presentation is in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and with the aforementioned hissy Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. There is nothing remarkable about the trailer in itself either.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    From what I can determine from the available reviews, the Region 1 release seems to be very similar to the Region 4 - except that no mention is made about an aliasing problem (DVD Talk for instance says the video is "excellent"). Given that the Region 2 release is very likely the same as ours and features the same paucity of extras, there is every indication that you should be indulging in the Region 1 release for this film.

Summary

    Suffering somewhat from casting choices as well as director and directorial choices, Night Passage ends up being an enjoyable enough film but one where you simply keep on wondering "what if?". When you consider that the video transfer dished up here borders on appalling at times, you might be well advised to rent this rather than buy it. If you are a James Stewart completist (and if not why not?), you might be well advised to consider purchasing the Region 1 release in this instance, sight unseen. It might not be a classic film, but Universal does itself no favours whatsoever by turning out transfers as shoddy as this.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Thursday, January 20, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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