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Kansas Pacific

Kansas Pacific(1953)

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teaser Kansas Pacific (1953)

Sterling Hayden never thought much of the films he made in the early 1950s. He had recently named names to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and afterwards he regretted it, breezing through what he considered routine, ordinary films such as Kansas Pacific (1953) with self-loathing and little enthusiasm.

In hindsight, he is actually quite effective in his performance here as a pre-Civil War Union officer assigned to aid construction boss Barton MacLane, who is building a railroad that the Union will need if war comes. The trouble is that the railroad is continually being sabotaged by southern sympathizers. As Hayden lends protection, he begins to fall for MacLane's daughter, played by Eve Miller.

Kansas Pacific, directed by Ray Nazarro, was filmed in the Sonora area of California in just two weeks at a cost of $200,000. Allied Artists, formerly something of a "prestige" unit of lowly Monogram Studios, was in the process of taking over the Monogram name entirely. Variety, in an enthusiastic review, called this film "one of the better pix to emerge under the Allied Artists banner... Hayden seems more at ease than usual in a tailor-made role and impresses... Barton MacLane, per usual, is tops." The Hollywood Reporter, too, reckoned this "a fine production... Races through 73 minutes... Hayden is excellent."

Producer Walter Wanger, though prominently credited, actually had nothing to do with this film and was in prison when it was made. In an infamous 1951 Hollywood scandal, he had shot and wounded agent Jennings Lang after discovering that Lang was having an affair with Wanger's wife, actress Joan Bennett. Wanger pled insanity and was sentenced to four months imprisonment, though he served only 98 days. While he was in prison, Monogram, his employer, produced Kansas Pacific and two other films under the Allied Artists name, and gave Wanger full credit -- as well as salary and profit participation -- on all three. When Wanger was released, he had $86,000 waiting. Studio executive Walter Mirisch (later a famous producer himself) deemed it "something we did for a friend in trouble." But the studio surely had some self-interest at play, too, for Wanger was well-enough known to the public that having his name plastered on films and advertising added significant box-office value.

Clayton Moore -- star of television's The Lone Ranger -- takes a small role here as a henchman. Moore missed one season of The Lone Ranger because of a contract dispute and consequently made a few more movie appearances than usual in that time, including this one.

Kansas Pacific opened in many theaters on a double bill with Seminole (1953), a western set in Florida and directed by Budd Boetticher.

By Jeremy Arnold

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