Raoul Walsh does his usual yeoman-like job of directing this mediocre Western with Joel McRae as an outlaw trying to make one last big haul by robbing a train, Dorothy Malone as the young woman he thinks he loves, and Virginia Mayo as the girl who is, as he finally realizes, made for him.
Walsh also directed the original story, "High Sierra", with Humphrey Bogart, Joan Leslie, and Ida Lupino in the same roles. "Colorado Territory" absconds with the story but leaves John Huston's felicitous script behind as scraps.
Walsh has never directed a dull film, and this isn't dull. What it is, is simple minded. All of the subtlety and ambiguity that made the original so fine, so artful, is discarded and instead the characters and their motives are simplified to the extent that any particularly aware third-grader can grasp them.
What I mean is -- how should I put this? Maybe I can make the point by giving an example. In "High Sierra", Bogart meets a simple, kind old man with a crippled grand-daughter who needs an operation. That's the teen-aged Joan Leslie we're talking about, and, man, she looks good, though rendered sullen by her disability. Bogart comes into some loot and gives much of it to Joan Leslie's family so that she can have her operation. Meanwhile, he falls in with Ida Lupino, a whore who has been kicked around, loves Bogart, and will do anything for him. Before adopting Lupino, Bogart tells her that there's no place in his life for her. (He's thinking of settling down with Joan Leslie once she's fixed up.) Leslie's operation is a success and from her recovery bed she showers Bogart with gratitude -- but not love, as she explains to Grampa. On his next visit, Bogart finds her drinking and jitterbugging frenetically with a boyfriend. Leslie is still grateful to Bogart but she rejects his possessiveness, and he leaves her forever with Ida Lupino. Huston and Walsh fill these scenes with love, ambiguity, a frantic hope and a hopeless remorse.
In the remake, the Joan Leslie figure, Dorothy Malone, has nothing wrong with her except that she is greedy and treacherous. Although McRae gives the family enough money to start their farm, Malone tries to alert the sheriff to MacRae's presence in order to collect the twenty-thousand-dollar reward. The Ida Lupino character, Virginia Mayo, actually has to have a physical fight with Malone to keep her from rushing out the door. There is no ambiguity, no sense of real life. Malone is not a nice, if slightly empty-headed girl, who wants to just enjoy her new freedom. She's a bad girl.
"Colorado Territory" is miscast, as well. Joel McRae is a good light comedian or light action star -- a nice guy. He's not the tough ex-con that Bogart was. And Virginia Mayo is supposed to be part Pueblo Indian, though she looks about as Indian as Jean Harlow, the heavy makeup notwithstanding. One of the most touching (because grounded) elements of the original is that Bogart had to give up the vivacious young Joan Leslie for the older, husky, used, and rather plain Ida Lupino. In the remake, the succulent Virginia Mayo of 1949 could give Dorothy Malone a run for her money any day. It's like a high-schooler having to give up his romance with the head of the girl's cheer-leading squad for the love of the Prom Queen. There's not much of a sense of loss.
I've picked out just one set of relationships to compare, but any viewer could easily spot a dozen more in which the original is superior to the remake. (Humphrey Bogart, describing what a Tommy gun sounds like, taps his finger three times on the desk and says, "Tap tap tap. That's all." Nothing like that here.) Nice location shooting, but if you want to see a movie made for adult sensibilities, rent the original. This remake is pretty watered down.