El Paso (film)

El Paso is a 1949 American Cinecolor Western film directed by Lewis R. Foster and starring John Payne, Gail Russell and Sterling Hayden.[4][5]

El Paso
Directed byLewis R. Foster
Produced byWilliam H. Pine
William C. Thomas
Screenplay byLewis R. Foster
Based onstory by J. Robert Bren
Gladys Atwater
StarringJohn Payne
Gail Russell
Sterling Hayden
Music byDarrell Calker
CinematographyEllis W. Carter
Edited byHoward A. Smith
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • August 5, 1949 (1949-08-05)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1 million[1][2]
Box office$1.7 million[3]


Clay Fletcher (John Payne)[6] is leaving South Carolina and heading west. A rebel officer during the Civil War and also a lawyer, he wants to ease back into law practice with something not too difficult, so he travels to El Paso, Texas with estate documents to get the signature of an attorney there, Henry Jeffers (Henry Hull).

Stagecoach Nellie (Mary Beth Hughes) steals his wallet along the way. Then, in a saloon, Clay sees a man convicted of murder by a drunken judge in a trial held in a saloon. The judge is Jeffers, and when Clay speaks up on the defendant's behalf, he is charged with contempt of court. Unable to pay the fine, his fancy clothing is auctioned off.

Clay is rescued by rancher Nacho Vazquez (Eduardo Noriega), who offers him a place to stay. He also meets the judge's daughter, Susan Jeffers (Gail Russell), who owns a hat shop. Clay learns the man found guilty of murder was framed by rich land owner Bert Donner (Sterling Hayden) and his stooge, Sheriff La Farge (Dick Foran).

La Farge brutally beats and jails a man named John Elkins (Arthur Space) who had once been a friend to Clay, who volunteers to represent him. He needs the judge to be sober, so old-timer Pesky (George 'Gabby' Hayes) offers to take Jeffers out of town and away from the saloon for a while. La Farge is furious and tries to have Clay killed.

The judge is respectable again by the trial date and clears Elkins of any wrongdoing. La Farge responds by having Jeffers dragged by horses and killed. He also arranges the murders of Elkins and his wife (Catherine Craig).

Vowing revenge, Clay forms an outfit of vigilantes to set things right. But in so doing, he is warned by Susan that he is becoming as ruthless as the men he's after. Donner ends up dead and La Farge is set to be lynched when Clay comes to his senses and asks that El Paso's next judge be the one to hand out justice.



The film was based on a story by J Robert Bren and Gladys Atwater. In July 1947 it was purchased by Pine-Thomas Productions who had just made another Western named after a Town in the South West, Albuquerque (1948). The story was going to depict the real-life Judge Colt. William Holden was originally mentioned as the possible lead.[7]

The film was the first million-dollar-budgeted movie from Pine-Thomas Productions, who had specialised in low budget action films. They had recently increased their budgets because they felt the movies were more profitable that way.[1]

"We've got people working in this one who two years ago wouldn't have been caught dead in a Pine-Thomas picture," said producer Will Thomas.[1] He added, "in the old days, all we had to do was get a guy blown up in an oil well explosion and go from there, but now, when we want to kill someone, we've got to have a good reason."[1]

Filming started October 1948. Some exterior shots were filmed in El Paso, Texas. Other scenes were shot in Gallup, Arizona, Nevada, and at ranches in the San Fernando Valley.[8]


The film was an "okay" box office success, earning $2 million.[9]

The New York Times thought that despite the increased budget the film found Pine and Thomas "still in the same low budget groove".[10] The film started a long relationship between Payne and Pine-Thomas.

See also


  1. Wood, Thomas (October 17, 1948). "ANTE UPPED FOR PINE AND THOMAS". New York Times. p. X5.
  2. "Detail view of Movies Page". www.afi.com. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
  3. "Top Grossers of 1949". Variety. January 4, 1950. p. 59.
  4. "Movie Review: El Paso". NY Times. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
  5. "At the Imperial / Colorful El Paso Boasts Thrills Plus Excellent Star Cast" (The News and Eastern Townships Advocate, June 2nd, 1949, Page Fourteen)
  6. "It's First Western For Payne" (The Deseret News, November 18, 1948, p.F-6)
  7. DRAMA AND FILM: Pine and Thomas Will Screen-Glorify El Paso Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times July 30, 1947: A7.
  8. Pine-Thomas Group to Shoot New Films Los Angeles Times September 5, 1948: D3.
  9. Variety. 1949 https://archive.org/stream/variety174-1949-06#page/n190/mode/1up/search/'pine-thomas. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. THE SCREEN: Just Pine and Thomas By BOSLEY CROWTHER. New York Times24 Mar 1949: 35.
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