Oregon in the 1850s, and the civilisation of the white men is starting to make its presence felt. One of those pioneers is Logan Stewart (Dana Andrews), who rides into a rain-lashed small town with bags of gold to take to what passes for the local bank for weighing. He has quite a bit of money there, and is anxious to get back to his home in another small town some way away, but first he has to meet up with Lucy (Susan Hayward), the fiancée of his best friend George Camrose (Brian Donlevy) who wants to be escorted there too. He tells her he wants an early start, but that night in his hotel room someone breaks in to steal his gold - and Logan thinks he knows who it is...
Director Jacques Tourneur was not best recognised for his westerns as if he is remembered today it will be for his atmospheric horrors or the cult film noir Out of the Past, but he did make a few. Canyon Passage was the first, adapted from a novel by Ernest Haycox by Ernest Pascal, and an odd patchwork of a film it was. Scene by scene, taken individually, it's very effective, but string them all together and it's a bumpy ride, ranging from coy romance to murder and rape - neither shown to any great explicitness, but their presence adds to the uncertainty of tone.
This is a tale of pioneers after all, and they didn't have it easy, but there's a moist-eyed approach to their tribulations that coupled with the glorious scenery makes the rough times the characters suffer almost glamorous. Logan thinks that general hoodlum Bragg (Ward Bond is worryingly convincing as the ne'erdowell) has attempted to steal his gold, but this aspect of the story is neglected for much of the running time, preferring to concentrate on the life around the settlement where Logan lives and the hero's love life. The leads are mismatched couples, with Logan wooing English rose Caroline (imported star Patricia Roc) when he should be going after Lucy, and George should be with the wife of the man he gambles away his money to every night.
Donlevy isn't really up to suggesting inner conflicts, and he and Andrews could have swapped roles without much difference in the result, but the relationships depicted are interesting ones. As if Bragg wasn't enough for the community to contend with, they still haven't been accepted by the resident Indian tribe who are itching for an excuse to raise hell. After a new cabin is built for a new couple in the area, the Indians have to be appeased, and the two threats to the staus quo collide when Bragg goes too far (firing on Logan and Lucy in the forest minutes before wasn't enough for him, obviously). Add in Hoagy Carmichael singing at various points (imagine him as James Bond and wonder what Ian Fleming was thinking) and you have a mishmash that may well have ran smoother on the page, but has an attraction born of its slightly awkward fit into the usual traits of the genre; a longer running time would have given all this more space to breathe.