Night Passage (film)

Night Passage is a 1957 Technicolor Western film directed by James Neilson and starring James Stewart and Audie Murphy.[2]

Night Passage
1957 theatrical poster by Reynold Brown
Directed byJames Neilson
Produced byAaron Rosenberg
Written byBorden Chase based on the novel by Norman A. Fox
StarringJames Stewart
Audie Murphy
Music byDimitri Tiomkin
CinematographyWilliam H. Daniels
Edited bySherman Todd
Universal Pictures
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • July 17, 1957 (1957-07-17) (Denver, Colorado)
  • July 24, 1957 (1957-07-24) (Los Angeles)
  • July 24, 1957 (1957-07-24) (New York City)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.6 million (US)[1]


On the way to meet his former boss, railroad tycoon Ben Kimball (Jay C. Flippen), Grant McLaine (Stewart) rescues a young boy, Joey Adams (Brandon deWilde), from Concho (Robert J. Wilke). Ben informs Grant that his payroll has been robbed three times already by a gang led by Whitey Harbin (Dan Duryea) and the Utica Kid (Murphy). If Ben's workers don't get paid soon, they will all leave the end-of-track work camp. Grant accepts the undercover job of carrying $10,000 to the crew by train.

When the train is held up again, Grant hides the money in a shoebox carried by Joey. The ploy works, but the young boy turns out to be friends with the Utica Kid, who takes him along with him. When the robbers cannot find the money, Whitey takes Ben's wife Verna (Elaine Stewart) to hold for ransom. Concho, a gang member, pistol-whips Grant, tumbling him down the steep embankment unconscious. The train leaves without him.

When Grant wakes up, he trails the gang to an abandoned mining camp. He boldly asks to join up, revealing that he is the Kid's older brother [the Kid's given name is Lee]. Utica is suspicious of his heretofore honest sibling, so Whitey (who dislikes the Kid) accepts him. Concho tries to shoot Grant unexpectedly, but Grant is faster to the draw. Afterwards, he tells the Kid where the money is, in an attempt to reform his brother. It doesn't work. The Kid gives Grant ten minutes to leave before he tells the gang, but Grant calls his bluff.

Then, railroad employee Will Renner (Herbert Anderson) shows up to collect his share of the loot. He had been Whitey's informant. He recognizes Grant (by the song he sings and plays on his accordion) as the man assigned to deliver the payroll. A gunfight ensues, in and out of the barroom. Grant, Verna and Charlotte "Charlie" Drew (Dianne Foster), the Kid's girlfriend, take refuge behind the bar temporarily. Grant sends Verna to safety down the mountain in an ore tram. Charlie refuses to leave. Meanwhile, the Kid is planning to quietly leave with Joey and the money.

However, Joey rushes to Grant's side, and the Kid reluctantly joins forces with his brother. They kill all the gang members except Whitey. When Whitey crawls up close and shoots at Grant, the Kid steps in, taking the bullet. Grant then kills Whitey. Grant buries his brother before they ride to the camp. With Grant's urging, Joey gets to work on his "promised" job, hauling water. Grant decides that his old job of railroad troubleshooter is a "better fit" than the offered position of being next in charge. The final scene is of the locomotive moving down the valley along the river into the foreground, with the theme song "Follow the River" softly playing.


Production background

This film is reminiscent of the popular western collaborations between Stewart and director Anthony Mann. This is largely because the project was slated to be their sixth collaboration. Mann backed out of the project before production due to other obligations and a disagreement over the casting of Audie Murphy. Aaron Rosenberg, who produced many of the Stewart-Mann collaborations, stayed on as producer with new director James Neilson.[3]

Dimitri Tiomkin scored the film, and co-wrote the songs "Follow the River" and "You Can't Get Far Without a Railroad" with Ned Washington, which were performed by James Stewart himself. The film also offered Stewart the rare opportunity to play the accordion, an instrument he had played since childhood. However, his accordion playing was rerecorded by a professional during post-production. The film was the first American production to utilize the Technirama process by Technicolor. This process helped make the blue skies crisper and brighten the autumn footage photographed by cinematographer William H. Daniels. The railroad scenes were filmed at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Durango, Colorado, using Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad K-28 Class steam locomotive #476 which still operates in excursion service today.[4] Though not as memorable as the Stewart-Mann films, Night Passage was a commercial success upon its release and has become a staple of cable television.

Co-star Dianne Foster got a closeup look at Audie Murphy's legendary temper when filming a scene in which his horse would not cooperate and several takes were needed. Murphy got so angry with the animal that he drew back and punched the horse in the face.[5] This film is one of the few which cast Audie Murphy as villainous.

See also


  1. "Top Grosses of 1957", Variety, 8 January 1958: 30
  2. Night Passage at Audie Murphy Memorial Site
  3. Paul Tatara, 'Night Passage', Turner Classic Movies accessed 4 June 2012
  4. Railroad Movies on DVD
  5. Larkins, Bob (2009) [2004]. The Films of Audie Murphy. McFarland & Company Publishing. pp. 114–115. ISBN 978-0-7864-4508-0.
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