Just outside of the then-small town of Denver, Colorado in 1861, Owen Pentecost (Robert Stack) meets Ann Alaine (Virginia Mayo) and the men accompanying her West. Ann plans to open a dress shop in Denver and invites Owen to ride with her men, though Zeff Masterson (Leo Gordon) takes an immediate dislike to Owen because he’s Southern.
In Denver, Owen finds no escape from those brewing North-vs.-South tensions. Zeff’s anger continues to boil, and he isn’t the only one in town defending his loyalties with his fists.
But Owen doesn’t seem all too concerned. He’s got money to make. After meeting some fellow Southerners at the saloon, Owen discovers that a man named Rogers (Dan White) is operating a gold mine, and the area’s rare minerals may prove very lucrative for them both if they’re willing to work together… and if they can survive long enough to rake in the profits.
Great Day in the Morning was directed by Jacques Tourneur. The screenplay was penned by Lesser Samuels, based on the 1950 novel of the same name by Robert Hardy Andrews.
This film’s opening text promises plenty of violence and action, calling the disputes in Denver “a small but bloody rehearsal for the War Between the States which as soon to follow.” The script doesn’t delve too deeply into the ideologies that separate these men — just that they’re divided geographically, those who came to Denver from Northern states and those who came from the South.
Simplistic explanations are given, such as the North and South being “natural enemies.” Money, of course, is also a great motivator for violence, with the men feuding over gold just as heartily as they do over their loyalties — perhaps even more so.
Though its motivations aren’t explored in too great of depth by Great Day in the Morning, the conflict certainly does get bloody by the end. The first half of film is peppered by just a few scenes of violence, but as tensions mount in Denver, these bloody incidents begin happening with greater and greater frequency. Of course, this was 1956 — none of the film is too gory. But if you like your Westerns with a fair dose of gun smoke, you’ll dig the second half of this one.
In its less-violent moments, the film could actually use a jolt of energy. It comes off as a bit stage-y and when fights aren’t breaking out, things can get a little dull in Denver.
The cast does well with the material, though. The performances are fine across the board, but I was particularly impressed with Ruth Roman (as saloon hostess Boston Grant) and Raymond Burr (as “Free State Saloon” proprietor Jumbo Means). Another highlight of the film is its photography, a beautiful Technicolor Superscope portrayal of a tree-lined, mountainous landscape.
Great Day in the Morning won’t be added to my list of Western favorites, but I’d still say it’s worth watching. After all, it’s a Western about the outbreak of the civil war and the Colorado gold rush from the same man who brought us Cat People and Out of the Past. I repeat, CAT PEOPLE. AND OUT OF THE PAST. (No one could blame Tourneur of being a one-note director, that’s for sure!)