Dana Andrews is a merchant/entrepreneur on the Oregon frontier during its period of pioneer settlement in the 1840s. He's got two women interested in him, Susan Hayward and Patricia Roc, a weak business partner in Brian Donlevy who's addicted to gambling and a big and mean man played by Ward Bond who wants to kill him. And of course there are the ever present Indians around.
Canyon Passage is directed by French expatriate director Jacques Tourneur and I have to say Tourneur did a good job in immersing himself in American frontier culture. I don't think John Ford could have done better with the story, the cast, and the superb outdoor photography that puts those B studio westerns to shame.
Patricia Roc who was a big name in Great Britain made a couple of American films at this time. Until the boundary was finally fixed at the 49th parallel, British settlers would not have been uncommon in the Oregon territory so the casting is not as strange as one might normally think. Ms. Roc didn't make much of an impression on American audiences and she was back in Great Britain shortly thereafter. Not too many British players of the period could boast a western in their credits though.
Susan Hayward is strangely subdued in this film. She looks a bit out of place in this one. She's far better suited to an urban setting. Later on she did films like Untamed and Garden of Evil, but far more of her fiery personality was shown in those roles than in Canyon Passage.
Ward Bond is the villain here, a misanthropic loner of a man, brooding and strange. I guess you can best compare his role to that of Judd Fry in Oklahoma. Has the same kind of problems relating to people, especially those of the opposite sex, that Judd does. It's one of Bond's two or three best performances on screen.
The popularity of Canyon Passage was helped in large measure to the Hoagy Carmichael-Jack Brooks ballad Ole Buttermilk Sky which Hoagy also performed in the film. It was a big hit that year both for Hoagy himself and others who recorded it. Carmichael was an amazing triple talent in the entertainment field as composer, actor, and singer of his own and other's songs. His best known movie parts besides Canyon Passage would be in Young Man With a Horn and The Best Years of Our Lives.
Tourneur keeps the film moving at a steady pace and gets quite a lot crammed into the 90+ minutes of the film. Western fans who like their films slow and easy will take to this one.