Running the Line
The American Civil War may have ended but it was far from over as men returned to homes changed by war and that includes the Canfield brothers who find their large plantation taken over by carpetbaggers. In a need to start over Britt Canfield (Randolph Scott) sees an opportunity when they come across the construction of the Santa Fe railroad and whilst his brothers don't join on he does. In fact his brothers end up joining with those who oppose the railroad and whilst Britt has to deal with Judith Chandler (Janis Carter), a war widow who initially dislikes him, he also has to deal with the fact he is going to end up fighting his own brothers.
"Santa Fe" starts so well with an opening look at how America was left destroyed by the Civil war; from children who didn't recognize their fathers to people struggling to make a living whilst the resentment between the North and South was still there, engrained in to people. But then after this entertaining and informative opening it tosses in some of the worst western cliches. We get a brief comedy brawl and also a scene where with Indians blocking construction of the railway Britt offers the Chief a chance to drive the Iron Horse and it is all jovial and bordering on the back slapping.
The thing is that whilst "Santa Fe" is entertaining and has lots of little amusing scenes, a typical romantic subplot and a storyline which builds to the inevitable conflict for Britt as he has to deal with his brothers, but it is all too typical. If it wasn't for such a well worked opening "Santa Fe" would be fine from start to finish but that opening lifts your expectations that this could offer up more than typical a western with social depth rather than cheesy comedy.
Despite being slightly disappointing "Santa Fe" is beautiful and director Irving Pichel uses Technicolor magnificently to create a vibrant looking picture full of definition and depth. From the amazing landscape shots to the interiors where every shadow on an uneven wall adds layer upon layer to the movie.
What this all boils down to is that "Santa Fe" is an entertaining Randolph Scott western and is certainly a beautiful looking one at that. But after a better than average opening the stuff which follows is unfortunately too typical and so ends up feeling a bit of a let down.