The Virginian (1946)

Genres - Western  |   Sub-Genres - Traditional Western  |   Release Date - Apr 17, 1946 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 90 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Hans J. Wollstein

They are on a collision course from the outset, Owen Wister's iconic characters of the Virginian (Joel McCrea), his best friend, Steve (Sonny Tufts), and Trampas, the cattle rustler (Brian Donlevy). Wister's original play had premiered on Broadway in 1904, starring Dustin Farnum in the title role, which he repeated for the cameras in the 1914 Cecil B. DeMille screen version. Paramount resurrected the tale of friendship and betrayal for the new talkie medium in 1929, allowing Gary Cooper first dibs at the immortal line "When you call me that -- smile." Technicolor added beauty and drama to both in the 1946 version's Placerita Canyon locations and Barbara Britton's prim yet glamorous schoolmarm, and McCrea and Donlevy were of course born to play the two adversaries, who were really mirror images of each other but whom destiny had placed on opposite side of frontier laws. Yet the color is almost too pretty at times, the indoor-for-outdoor sets too prevalent (a common objection to grade-A Westerns of the 1940s), and Sonny Tufts doesn't exactly strike a modern viewer as the star-crossed type. Combined, these flaws do not make the climactic hanging-of-his-best-friend scene the powerful statement it should have been, and the final confrontation in the streets of Medicine Bow is handled with too little imagination and falls a bit flat.