Sunday, November 18, 2007

“When they grip their guns…you’ll grip your seat!”


A recent sales flier from VCI Entertainment resulted in my purchasing some cherce DVDs on sale…though several of the discs were backordered and so the whole DVD enchilada didn’t arrive at the House of Yesteryear until earlier this week. To be honest, I did not purchase these directly from VCI; I took advantage of the sale and found them priced even lower at one of my favorite online places, DVD Pacific. (Why they call it DVD Pacific—when the company is based out of Florida—is a question inquiring minds would like to know.)

I snapped up some real nice bargains—the best of which was a double feature of Ronald Reagan B-westerns in both Cattle Queen of Montana (1954) and Tennessee’s Partner (1955) for $4.05 (I hope to have a review of this Reagan retrospective up sometime this week). I also bought a movie that I’ve wanted to own for some time now, the 1954 Technicolor RKO western Silver Lode (1954).

In Lode, the titled burg is celebrating the Fourth of July—but in addition to the Glorious Fourth, there’s a wedding taking place between cattle rancher Dan Ballard (John Payne) and Rose Evans (Lizabeth Scott), daughter of Zachary Evans (Morris Ankrum), one of the town’s highly-respected citizens. Before the minister (Hugh Sanders) can pronounce the happy couple man and wife, a man named Fred McCarty (Dan Duryea) rides into Silver Lode with three men (Harry Carey, Jr., Stuart Whitman and Alan “Skipper” Hale, Jr.), claiming to be a U.S. marshal…and announces to all assembled that he’s got a warrant to take Ballard back to California on charges of murder and theft (there’s also a personal vendetta involved, as the man who Ballard allegedly shot in the back was McCarty’s brother). Ballard insists he’s innocent, but when the town’s judge (Robert Warwick) proves to be little help is issuing a stay of extradition Dan asks for two hours to prove his innocence. As it would happen, Ballard is innocent—but as the two hour sand runs through the hourglass, McCarty is able to sow enough dissension and suspicion throughout the town that cause the good people of Silver Lode to turn on Ballard.

In A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies (1995), the celebrated director uses Lode as an example of “the director as smuggler”; pointing out that director Allan Dwan subverts the traditional conservative Western into an allegory of the anti-Communist witch hunts taking place at the same time of Lode’s release. (To make sure no one misses the point, the villain is named “McCarty.”) Lode isn’t as subtle as a similar picture released at that time (the legendary Johnny Guitar), but it’s still a better-than-average oater and manages to build some impressive tension with a genuinely satisfying climax inside the town church. TDOY fave Duryea is at his reptilian best as the slimy McCarty, and Payne demonstrates how versatile a leading man he could be as the hero (Payne achieved a great deal of fame in many of the 20th Century-Fox musicals featuring Alice Faye and Betty Grable—not to mention the lawyer who tries to make time with Maureen O’Hara in Miracle on 34th Street [1947]—but really shined in some first-rate 50’s noirs directed by Phil Karlson, like Kansas City Confidential [1952] and 99 River Street [1953]). As the heroine, Scott’s character is too mousey to make any kind of impact; I like Delores Moran’s “dance hall girl” better because of her sharp wisecracks and devotion to helping Payne prove his innocence, knowing full well she’s going to end up with “the fuzzy end of the lollipop.” Plus, Silver Lode is crammed with great character actors: Emile Meyer, Byron Foulger, Myron Healey, I. Stanford Jolley, Burt Mustin, Gene Roth…and the list goes on and on.

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