Crystal is hosting a blogathon dedicated to the incredible Agnes Moorehead at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. The Agnes Moorehead Blogathon is running from December 4th to the 6th. Click HERE for the insightful contributions.
If you are a western fan you may have noticed that quite often the western hero of the stranger who comes to town is not who he says he is, but an undercover agent ferreting out evil doers. Hoppy was quite adept at that role. Tim Holt seemed to have a positive mania for the deception. Stay tuned.
At one time another popular addition to westerns was the singing cowboy who fell by the wayside by the 1950s to be replaced by theme songs which hinted at (Johnny Guitar) or outright gave away the entire plot (High Noon) of the film they supported. In Station West we have a bridge between those two uses of song in the form of an uncredited Burl Ives in his first year in films. In the theme song he sings the lines:
The story is told in the dust of the prairie
That a man can't grow old where there's women and gold
The man in question is star Dick Powell who plays a fellow called Haven. Gold is indeed the reason he has come to this town on behalf of the Military Information Department. Mine owners have ended up storing their gold at a local fort because they have been robbed so often that Wells Fargo has stopped transporting their gold. Two soldiers have been murdered in the robbery. It is Haven's job to fix everything.
Truer words were never sung as regards the song lyrics regarding women. Haven makes his presence known by stirring up trouble all over town. In the most successful saloon/gambling parlour, Haven first sees a sultry singer of romantic ballads played by Jane Greer. It is a moment for both of them. Sparks fly and the two will share a relationship of noirish sarcasm and surprisingly tender actions. It is not until the next day that Haven discovers that the beautiful woman is the "Charlie" who runs the town. Charlie owns a piece of every business and a few souls as well. One of those souls belongs to a failed lawyer and gambler Mark Bristow played by Raymond Burr. His cowardly character will play a pivotal role in the unraveling of the case.
Dick Powell, Agnes Moorehead
The other woman in the case is Mrs. Mary Caslon played by Agnes Moorehead. Mrs. Caslon is a widowed mine owner and the main reason the military authorities have been so obliging about storing the gold. Mrs. Caslon is engaged to the fort commander Captain Iles played by Tom Powers. He is clearly besotted and willing to go against normal protocol. Mrs. Caslon is an extremely self-possessed and strong woman. Her relationship with Haven is one of mutual respect and curiosity as she supports the undercover operation in moral and practical ways. She is also quick to protect her interests when she feels she has been played.
In 1948 Agnes Moorehead already had two Oscar nominations under her belt and the third of four would come the following year. This relatively little film from RKO seems like an odd fit in her string of high profile pictures. I would imagine that the opportunity to play such an intriguing character was of interest to the talented Aggie.
Station West is a well-paced western that lives on the edge of noir. Its two intriguing female characters are a large part of what gives it an out-of-the-ordinary interest. Certainly Agnes Moorehead always brought more than her best to any role she tackled.