Monday, May 12, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Duel at Silver Creek (1952)

THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK is a very enjoyable Universal Western teaming Audie Murphy and Stephen McNally.

McNally plays Marshal "Lightning" Tyrone, whose quick draw skills are hampered by an injury to his trigger finger. Lightning keeps his injury secret but as a precaution deputizes the Silver Kid (Murphy), a fast-drawing young gambler Lightning thinks has good potential if he stays out of trouble.

Lightning and the Kid go up against a gang of claim jumpers, who coincidentally killed the Kid's father. The audience knows what Lightning doesn't -- the beautiful Opal (Faith Domergue) who's been romancing Lightning is actually a murderous ringleader of the gang.

Meanwhile pretty young Dusty (Susan Cabot) pines after Lightning, who considers her to be a little sister. The Silver Kid, however, definitely doesn't consider Dusty a sister.

I liked this one a lot and will definitely be returning to it; it's a wonderful example of the Western as "movie comfort food." The film has many appealing aspects, first and foremost the development of the relationship between Lightning and the Silver Kid. Lightning mentors the Kid, yet it's the Kid who's sometimes the wiser man of the pair, showing up just when Lightning needs him. Their shootout against Johnny Ringo (Eugene Iglesias) is terrific.

The relationship of the Kid and Dusty also builds to a charming conclusion. Susan Cabot would go on to costar with Murphy in GUNSMOKE (1953) and RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO (1954). She was also very good as the wife of Cochise in THE BATTLE AT APACHE PASS (1952).

Murphy shows that he was continuing to develop into quite a good actor at this early stage of his career, with an appealing screen presence and some very good timing and line readings. I've also really come to appreciate McNally this past year and hope to see more of his work.

Domergue's inital sequence is rather breathtaking as it seems somewhat rare for a woman in a Western to act as brutally as her character does. Domergue specialized in playing disturbed women, with WHERE DANGER LIVES (1950) and ESCORT WEST (1958) being other examples. More recently her near-wordless cameo in the Argentinian film noir HARDLY A CRIMINAL (1949) was a real treat; what a beauty!

Lee Marvin makes the most of a small early role as Tinhorn. The cast is rounded out by Gerald Mohr, James Anderson, Walter Sande, and Griff Barnett.

THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK had a much better story and plot construction than the last Murphy film I saw, DRUMS ACROSS THE RIVER (1954), which had a frustrating "downer" storyline until near its conclusion. THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK has plenty of conflicts to make it interesting but the focus is the positive relationships of the three lead characters as played by McNally, Murphy, and Cabot.

The 77-minute film's story was by Gerald Drayson Adams, who cowrote the screenplay; Adams wrote many Western films and TV series including some really good episodes of MAVERICK such as "The Savage Hills."

THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK was directed by Don Siegel and shot in Technicolor by Irving Glassberg.

A side note, the hillside staircase on the Universal Western backlot which I mentioned in my post on DRUMS ACROSS THE RIVER is visible in this movie too, during the scene where a gunman tries to take out Lightning.

THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK is available as a single-title DVD. (Thanks, Toby!) It's also part of a four-film Classic Western DVD collection. It had a 1997 release on VHS.

Previous reviews of Audie Murphy Westerns: SIERRA (1950), GUNSMOKE (1953), RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO (1954), DRUMS ACROSS THE RIVER (1954), NIGHT PASSAGE (1957), and NO NAME ON THE BULLET (1959).

Previous reviews of Stephen McNally Westerns: WINCHESTER '73 (1950), APACHE DRUMS (1951), and THE STAND AT APACHE RIVER (1953).

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