James Neilson's Night Passage (1957) was never released on laserdisc, and hasn't been shown much on television since the 1970's (and never in its original Technirama aspect rati) -- so Universal's 2003 DVD release is the best chance that we've had to see this underrated western in more than 45 years. The studio's video division has made the most of it, unearthing a near-flawless source that has extraordinary sharpness and depth -- the 2.35-to-1 letterboxed image is essential to appreciating this movie, right down to a clever gimmick involving the lettering in the opening credits (which may make modern viewers laugh a bit). As to those with doubts about the movie, based on its relative unfamiliarity, Night Passage is of a piece with James Stewart's more celebrated westerns with director Anthony Mann. It has all of the dark implications of character, the lusty surrounding portrayals, and the kind of hard-as-nails story that Mann specialized in (and the presence of Dan Duryea in the cast doesn't hurt). Where it is lacking is in its visual flaccidness in spots -- the director and the script waste the opening 10 minutes of the movie in a scene at a railway camp that suffers from an excessive reliance on wide master shots, where Mann tended to bring his camera in a bit on his players, focusing on individual characters rather than large set pieces -- it's as though, having arranged for the use of Technirama, the makers were hell-bent on shooting the biggest set-pieces. Finally, 12 minutes in is where the "real" movie starts and Night Passage begins to resemble a Mann film in approach as well as casting and mood. The color cinematography is nicely captured on the disc the sound is also mastered at a reasonably high volume, making this a solid DVD release with lots of intrinsic interest for fans of Stewart or westerns. The 20 chapters are placed nicely and clearly (and cleverly) titled. The disc opens on a simple menu that includes access to an original trailer (that also emphasizes the "scope" aspect ratio) that's in nearly as good shape as the film itself.It makes the movie seem a little less measured in its pacing and more a pure action-oriented western. It gets there, but not before Stewart turns in a nicely dark performance as a hero with a mean edge to go with his good nature. There are no other special features, apart from captions and subtitles available in English, Spanish, and French.
Night Passage Night Passage is so similar in spirit to the successful collaborations between star James Stewart and director Anthony Mann that it comes as a surprise that this film is directed by James Nielson. Stewart plays Grant McLaine, ex-railroad employee and the level-headed brother of firebrand gunslinger The Utica Kid (Audie Murphy). When Grant is entrusted to guard a train delivering $10,000, The Kid's gang holds up the train and steals the money. Grant takes off to hunt his felonious brother down and attempts to convince him to go straight. Unfortunately, The Kid refuses, and the brothers face off in a showdown. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi