Filmed along the Denver & Rio Grande Western narrow gauge in Southwestern Colorado, this film stars Joel McCrea, Virginia Mayo and a 23 year old Dorothy Malone. Of more interest to us is the heart and soul of our review, little Denver & Rio Grande #315, an 1895 Baldwin C-18 class 2-8-0 locomotive, originally built for the Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad.
Sporting a fake balloon smokestack, oversize headlight box and renumbered “15” for this performance, the little 3-feet-between-the-rails Consolidation has two extensive scenes in this movie including a spectacular train robbery. Filmed just before A Ticket To Tomahawk would make the Colorado narrow gauge famous, Colorado Territory has plenty of train action alongside the Southwest’s wide open spaces.
D&RG #15 and train prepares to depart “Aztec” Colorado. On board are train robbers, a sheriff’s posse and the payroll. What could possibly go wrong?
“I’ve got spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle….” 30 minutes into the picture, our first train scene shows the outlaw Wes McQueen (Joel McCrea) marching past the depot and alongside a beautifully turned out narrow gauge passenger train. McQueen is “casing the joint”…checking out the train he plans to rob later on.
In the last frame, notice the locomotive is labeled “Denver & Rio Grande” whereas the rolling stock is “Denver & Rio Grande Western“. Also, that huge metal device hanging off the tender is a re-railer — handy if a minor derailment occurred out in the middle of nowhere.
McQueen even chats up the fireman before boarding. Note how the “3” was carefully painted out to renumber the 2-8-0 as “15”.
Beautiful low-light shot of #15 rolling past the camera. Note that funky bay-window installed on the last car (#306). As the train pulls out, we see McQueen hanging out on the rear platform. I haven’t been able to figure out where this scene was filmed. Perhaps on the now-abandoned section between Chama and Durango?
D&RG #15 and four-car train trundles through the Colorado countryside. Still on the back platform, McQueen chews the fat with the conductor.
Interlude. No train scenes at the moment, but I have to include the female portion of our show.
Wanted Dead or Alive is Outlaw McQueen! However, due to bad planning, there’s no accompanying photo of the villain in question. Nice Girl Julie Ann [beautiful and pure] (played by Dorothy Malone) and dusky Bad Girl Colorado Carson, [rawr-RAWR!] (played by Virginia Mayo). Hmmm. Which one do ya think McQueen will wind up with? AND just for fun, I include this autographed studio glossy of a brief catfight between the two “ladies”.
Okay, back to the trains. Now a good 50 minutes into the picture, McQueen and his gang prepare to rob the payroll.
The skunk McQueen watches from behind the depot as the payroll (in two conveniently easy-to-carry bags) is loaded aboard the baggage car. The Sheriff informs Conductor Atoz that he and the boys will be riding the train to keep the loot safe. Sure.
Once more the Conductor waves a highball and the payroll train is on its way.
Churning along, the fireman throws a little sand in the firebox for a nice black plume of smoke; Back in the coaches, everything is copacetic.
Galloping trackside, McQueen clambers aboard, climbs up on the roof and makes his way up to the baggage car. Before you know it, the outlaw has the two baggage-men at bay.
Jump! In a great shot, two stunt doubles leap off the fast moving train and tumble down the embankment.
McQueen draws a bead on the hapless Conductor forcing him to “pull the pin” between baggage car and coaches. The engine and baggage car pull ahead as the coaches slowly coast to a stop. Mr. Atoz gives Sheriff the bad news.
To complete the heist, McQueen uncouples the engine from the now-isolated baggage car. Uhh…you can’t uncouple from way up there. Ah, Hollywood…
The car slowly rolls to a stop with a little help from turning the brake wheel. Still up on the roof, McQueen overhears his two henches plotting to take the loot for themselves. McQueen gets the drop on them as the baggage car stops at a very scenic spot indeed.
If you guessed Bad Girl, you guessed right. Colorado Carson is trackside with horses for a fast getaway as McQueen dismounts with the loot.
The posse finally arrives, but too late to catch McQueen (they apparently walked all that way). “Gee, we can start a new life in Mexico!” The happy couple have made good their escape with their ill-gotten gains. With the Hays Code still firmly in place, you KNOW this is not how it ends, but there are no more train scenes so frankly, I’m not interested.
For a standard late 1940’s oater, this one was pretty good. The actual ending has an interesting twist and if you’d like to view it yourself, you can find it on dailymotion dot com.
I’d like to thank CoasterFan2105 for posting this video about D&RG #315 on YouTube. It was very helpful in identifying the locomotive in this movie and it’s gratifying to know #315 has been restored to operating condition.
Here’s what IMDb has to say about Colorado Territory:
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