In his Turner Classic introduction, Robert Osborne said STATION WEST was the only “true” western Dick Powell ever made. Whatever that means. Based on a novel by Luke Short, he went on to describe it as a film noir western, or at least a whodunit in a western setting. Jane Greer is the femme fatale in this one, not a stretch from some of her other film noir roles.
Powell is Lt. John Martin Haven, an army investigator undercover to investigate the murder of two soldiers escorting a gold-laden stage. Jane Greer is Charlene, “Charlie,” a saloon/gambling hall owner. He sets up his undercover posing as an ornery drifter, gambling, getting into an argument with an army recruiter(Steve Brodie) in Charlie’s place, worming his way in with the beautiful owner after winning a fight with her thuggish bouncer(Guinn “Big Boy” Williams). Raymond Burr has a small role as lawyer Mark Bristow, a mostly cowardly man with six thousand in IOUs to Charlie. Gordon Oliver is Prince, Charlie’s partner. Agnes Moorehead is Mrs. Mary Caslon, a mine owner keeping company with the army fort commander Captain George Iles(Tom Powers). Finally, Burl Ives is the hotel desk clerk and most every scene he’s in is an excuse to do some picking and singing.
Haven wants to find out who’s been stealing the mine shipments and why two soldiers were escorting one of the stages. Captain Iles’s relationship with Mrs. Caslon is one answer. The other is that Wells Fargo has stopped shipping the gold because of all the hold-ups. It’s being stored at the fort and there’s a lot of it by now.
In addition to the murders of the two soldiers, a large number of uniforms have gone missing, presumed destroyed in a warehouse fire. Haven is suspicious.
He gets a job running the transportation franchise in the town, Charlie owns that also. His plan to is to take a load of gold and let it get held up. He’s put a saddle in the stage and intends to follow the thieves to their hideout. As he’s leaving, the stage guard, wounded in the last hold-up, invites himself along. As planned, they are held up by five men, Things go downhill though. Haven is knocked unconscious and the guard murdered.
When he comes to, Haven finds an ID on the guard showing he was a Wells Fargo detective. He saddles a horse and follows the tracks. They’re easy. Two sets break off, one of them much deeper than the other, obviously carrying the gold. He follows, killing the rider leading the packhorse in a shootout, shooing the two horses and follows them home. The sawmill is where they lead and he spots one of his men with a wagon load of supplies, swaps places with him, and rides into the camp. They have a locked “equipment” box that needs to go back to Charlie.
He’s all set to worm his way further into things when they muddy the waters further as Mrs. Caslon steals the gold from him.
Frank Fenton and Winston Miller wrote the screenplay from the Short novel and Sidney Lanfield directed. In black and white, it did have that noir feel to it.
They keep you guessing. Not to much though. Just how deep everyone is involved is the mystery and it was easy, for me anyway, to figure the deal with the missing uniforms.
Can’t seem to find a trailer, but here’s the fight scene with Guinn “Big Boy” Williams:
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