Southwest Passage (1954) has to do, of all things, with the use of camels in the U.S. Cavalry. But this is really the MacGuffin, a friendly name for a plot device or element, popularized by Alfred Hitchcock, referring to his own work. It is really a western ensemble film dealing with an assortment of characters and situations, some possibly a little too creative. Take, for example, the Arabs who have come along for the ride west to tend the camels. They pray, keep to themselves, and steadfastly refuse pork — a source of mirth at the chuck wagon.
But they comprise only a single illustration. There is also a drunk doctor, a vet, who removes a bullet fragment from an outlaw’s chest. Then there are the romantic leads, McDonald (John Ireland) and Lilly (Joanne Dru). They go west with the Cavalry and its camels. McDonald, having purchased the vet’s black bag, poses as the new camel doc. The strong ethical and moral type is played by Rod Cameron. His Mr. Beale, out to survey land for miners and settlers, provides an anchor of sorts as well as leadership.
And so the film slides effortlessly from one vignette to another. Near the end, Apaches suddenly appear and battle sequences occur between rifle and bow and arrow. Before it is all clear and wagons west, a camel will have been shot just like a horse for having broken a bone, a man suffering a poisonous lizard bite will have been saved from an even deadlier amputation by a quack, and lots of quarrels will have been settled by means of gunshots and fisticuffs. At any given time, it might seem as though all the screen has to offer is standard fare. But these stunts and entanglements strung together actually add up.