Monday, July 04, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Silver Lode (1954)

SILVER LODE has been in my stack of "must see" movies for the last few months, especially as it's a favorite of my blogging pal Toby over at 50 Westerns From the 50s. Since the action takes place on Independence Day, I've been saving it for the 4th of July, and today was the day to finally see it!

It's Independence Day in Silver Lode, and it's also the wedding day of respected citizen Dan Ballard (John Payne) and wealthy Rose Evans (Lizabeth Scott). The festivities are interrupted when oily Ned McCarty (Dan Duryea) shows up in Silver Lode claiming to be a U.S. marshal with a warrant to arrest Dan for murder.

At first Silver Lode's citizens defend Dan, but as the day goes on, they start to turn against him, leaving only Rose and dance hall girl Dolly (Dolores Moran) to help.

It's hard to miss the similarities between SILVER LODE and HIGH NOON (1952), with a lone man and his bride facing down a passel o' bad men on their wedding day, although the film has its own unique take on the theme. And unlike HIGH NOON, SILVER LODE is in Technicolor. I did find the film's storyline a bit of a downer, as Dan's predicament goes from bad to worse. It's simply hard watching a good man treated so poorly. All that said, SILVER LODE is a well-made film with an interesting message performed by a deep cast.

Payne is excellent in the lead role; like Dick Powell, Payne had emerged from musicals and light comedies to be a hard-edged leading man in film noir and Westerns of the '50s. He's particularly effective conveying emotional pain and disappointment, as in his moving final scene.

Duryea is so creepy and obnoxious that it's a bit hard to understand why the town's citizenry didn't retain their skepticism longer. Given the contrast between Dan and McCarty's characters, it really didn't make sense for the citizens of Silver Lode to place such stock in McCarty's piece of paper; calm logic would seem to have dictated that Dan be placed in protective custody till after the holiday, when telegrams could be easily sent and matters cleared up. However, that weakness in the plot is also the film's point -- that the mob mentality took over and common sense went out the window. From that standpoint, the film is particularly thought-provoking and worthwhile.

Another thing that frustrated me was Dan not blurting out all the information he'd learned from McCarty's repentant henchman, Johnson (Harry Carey Jr.). After a bloody shoot-out in a barn, it seems as though Dan should have at least tried to explain to everyone what McCarty had done. I can only surmise his silence was meant to illustrate Dan's despair at his friends turning on him.

In all honesty, I can't say I really "get" Lizabeth Scott, who I don't find particularly attractive or compelling. I was much more interested in Dolores Moran's fiery Dolly, who resents being dumped by Dan but can't help protecting him. Moran's wisecracks also provide the film with some needed levity. After Payne's character, I thought Moran had the most interesting role in the film. Moran, who was married to the film's producer, Benedict Bogeaus, had previously appeared in films such as Humphrey Bogart's TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944) and THE MAN I LOVE (1947) with Ida Lupino.

The cast also includes Emile Meyer, Alan Hale Jr., Stuart Whitman, Edgar Barrier, Frank Sully, Robert Warwick, and Morris Ankrum.

As a side note, I found the signs in the film advertising a "safe and sane" Independence Day celebration fun. I had no idea that that phrase dated back to the old West -- or at least back to the '50s when this film was made.

The movie was directed by Allan Dwan and filmed by the great John Alton. It runs 81 minutes.

I watched the VCI Special Edition which was a nice print. The disc also contained short featurettes on John Payne and Allan Dwan.

The movie had an older DVD release as well as a release on videotape.


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