Silver City

Watching movies again after a long gap can alternate between the rewarding and the disappointing. Any conclusions reached are, of course, entirely subjective as it’s we who represent the variable here, the ones who change, and not the movies themselves. And it’s a curious phenomenon, one whose mechanics I’ve never wholly understood beyond vague allusions to the mood one happens to be in on any given occasion. For what it’s worth, I find that my feelings towards most films don’t shift all that radically, and when I do perceive a change it’s a positive one as often as not. Still, when I recently had another look at Byron Haskin’s Silver City (1951) I experienced the opposite effect – a certain disappointment, as though the film I remembered were subtly different.

The show opens with a robbery and pitches us right into what promises to be a pacy adventure. The bright start and then the following sequence that establishes Larkin Moffatt (Edmond O’Brien) as a man fated to be dogged by a tarnished past has the potential to develop into something really meaty and satisfying. We follow Moffatt from one rejection to another as he trudges along the path of weary disillusionment trodden by legions of noir anti-heroes. This was the image I’d been carrying around in my mind – that of the pugnacious, tight-lipped guy slouching his way through a hard-boiled western in search of some form of personal redemption. But that’s only part of the story, and not necessarily a fair representation of it either. Moffatt is thrown a moral lifeline of sorts when Candace Surrency (Yvonne De Carlo) and her miner father Dutch (Edgar Buchanan) persuade him to take on the role of foreman when they’ve made a big silver strike. There’s trouble looming though in the shape of a grasping rival, Jarboe (Barry Fitzgerald), as well as the reappearance of  figures from Moffatt’s past who refuse to let him move on.

On paper, this all sounds quite good – and the fact it’s derived from a Luke Short story attests to its pedigree – but the fact is it plods along where it needs to zip, and the tone tends to vary in a way I didn’t find especially successful. Moffatt is for the most part portrayed as terse, tough and two-fisted but there are a few occasions where he’s involved in some knockabout antics which didn’t blend in naturally for me – there’s a manufactured saloon brawl that feels altogether too broad, in my opinion. Aside from that, I’m of the opinion that there’s almost too much going on in the script – jealousy, romantic subplots which crisscross feel somewhat repetitive, rivalries that spill over from relationships into business, and consequent grudges and bad feeling nursed by others. In short, there’s always something going on but the crowded nature of it all actually serves to slacken the pace rather than quicken it.

On the plus side, there is a fine cast here, led by the ever watchable O’Brien, bringing that natural noir sensibility he had to his role. Yvonne De Carlo always had that earthy allure and photographs wonderfully in Technicolor. I think she generally excelled in westerns and made quite a few, her blend of sexuality and toughness finding a natural home in the genre. Laura Elliott (AKA Kasey Rogers), who had a pivotal role in Strangers on a Train around this time, is fine too as De Carlo’s competition for O’Brien’s attentions. Moving on to the villainous roles, I ‘d argue there are too many of them for their own good. The great Barry Fitzgerald could never be less than enjoyable and he seemed to be having a high time with his malignant Irish pixie act. John Dierkes is good too as a murderous and vindictive drunkard but he’s underused, while neither Richard Arlen nor Michael Moore amount to a big enough threat to provide a solid core to the drama.

I think director Byron Haskin had a great visual sense and this film looks very attractive most of the time. Westerns tends to be at their best when the locations are used to good advantage and while this film has some good outdoor work, it has to be said that the director really made the most of the interiors, and there’s no doubt cameraman Ray Rennahan’s beautifully understated lighting played an important part in this too. Haskin made a trio of westerns around this time with Edmond O’Brien and I’m keen to see the most elusive of them, Warpath.  That title has only had a release in Spain as far as I can tell and I can’t find any reviews to throw light on its quality. Even so, I may well end up taking a chance on this myself in order to satisfy my curiosity.

Silver City has been out in the US on DVD and Blu-ray via Olive  for a few years now, and I think there are European versions on the market too. The movie looks reasonable, if not startling, and passes the time agreeably. However, I still feel there are the ingredients for something better in the mix, and I remain somewhat disappointed that my latest viewing had me noticing more of the flaws than the strengths. Anyway, that’s just my current take and, as ever, other opinions are available.

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20 thoughts on “Silver City

  1. Hi, WARPATH has also been released in Germany by White Pearl Classics. I got it fairly cheaply and was very pleased with the quality.In my opinion it is a better Western than SILVER CITY.Regards Lee.

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    • Thanks for the link.

      You may well enjoy Silver City – I know I felt better about it first time but that’s not to say the more recent revisit was a total bust. It does have its strengths, it’s just that some of the flaws were more apparent to me.

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  2. Edmond O’Brien was one of the less prominent stars of Hollywood. I have not really followed much of his starring roles (mostly second billings). As I am mainly fond of westerns, remembered him in The Big Land starring Alan Ladd and Virginia Mayo a long time ago. In view of this, have not seek out the said movie. Best regards.

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    • I’m not sure if he was less prominent exactly – he wasn’t really the type to be cast as a romantic lead though, essentially playing character parts for his whole career.

      While he’s not someone you would immediately think of as a western actor, he did appear in a fair few. Apart from the trio I mentioned him doing with Haskin, he had important and memorable roles in some significant pictures, especially later in his career – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Rio Conchos and The Wild Bunch are very notable credits.

      Nevertheless, I find myself thinking first of film noir when I hear his name – The Killers, D.O.A, White Heat and The Hitch-Hiker all spring readily to mind. And of course, while not noir, his Oscar-winning turn as the sweaty PR man in The Barefoot Contessa is a fine piece of work.

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      • D.O.A. (1949) was a fine bit of work by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene who wrote the story and collaborated together on the screenplay. In 1953, they once again collaborated with the film noir gem WICKED WOMAN. Direction was done by Rouse, with Greene as Producer and Screenplay by both. The title role belongs to wonderful sultry Beverly Michaels who gives the performance of her life. Richard Egan did fine support in the male lead. This is a must see……other noir blogs rave over this little gem. It moves fast and will keep you on the edge of your seat. The last ten minutes are unforgettable with the confrontation between Michaels and Egan……especially the escapades with Michaels. It will leave you thinking……what did I just witness!

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          • I agree with Scott. Wicked Woman is a trashy little gem, not even B Noir, more like C. I’d call it bottom-of-the-barrel done right. Ed Wood should have taken note. The way Beverly, always dressed in virginal white, sashays through the entire movie in slow-motion alone is worth a look.
            Special mention has to go to pipsqueak Percy Helton as the ultimate little weasel.

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              • Margo nails it…….it’s C Noir at it’s trashy best. It’s so good it may list as the best. WICKED WOMAN leaves you thinking about that movie for days. It definitely has rounded out my film Noir experience and wanting to see more of Beverly Michaels…….and guess what……you can. PICKUP (1951) is also available on you tube. A side note – It’s uncanny how much she personifies Frances Farmer in almost every aspect of her acting skills.

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  3. Oddly, I have seen “WARPATH” but not “SILVER CITY”, the opposite to your own viewing experience, Colin. Probably saw “WARPATH” just once, decades ago, with no strong memory about it.
    Now, you mention you have also ordered “FLAMING FEATHER” – that one I happen to like quite a lot. Maybe we can expect a review of it in the future?
    I always think of Edmond O’Brien as a ‘noir’ actor,and a darned good one, but in fact he surprised me by how good he was in the western “COW COUNTRY” where he seemed a ‘natural’ really.

    As to “SILVER CITY”, I really ought to get hold of a copy some time. You have roused my curiosity…..

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    • Yeah, I always thought O’Brien was good or better in anything I saw him in.
      Will I put up a piece on Flaming Feather? I may do so, but I’ll have to wait till it I see it and of course see how I feel about it.

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  4. Colin, good review of SILVER CITY a movie that I haven’t seen in years. Regarding your viewpoint concerning watching movies again after a long gap can alternate between the rewarding and the disappointing. Yes, I can understand that, and my personal viewpoint tends to go along with yours mostly, in that I find that my feelings towards most movies don’t shift much, and if they do, it is toward a more positive viewpoint. I’ve been trying to think of a movie that I really liked when I was a youngster and when I saw it as an adult, was disappointed, or vice-versa. Personally that is a hard one for me, because the movies that I liked 40-50 years ago, I still like. The movies that I didn’t like, I still don’t. I’m speaking as a fan and I respect other opinions, because we all don’t like, or dislike, the same movies, or anything else, for that matter.

    I like Edmond O’Brien and have ever since I first saw him on THE MAGICAL WORLD OF DISNEY as the newspaper editor Jefferson Crowley in “The Adventures of Gallegher,” which first aired on January 24, 1965. O’Brien is a fine actor. He could do it all, Noir, Dramas, Thrillers, Comedies, and Westerns. I have no problem with him in Westerns, because he gave it his all, no matter the genre. Also, there were plenty of New Yorkers in the West after the War of the Rebellion. Billy the Kid was born in New York City.

    The Three Westerns that Nat Holt produced, Frank Gruber scripted, Ray Rennahan filmed, and Byron Haskin directed are all good, but I think DENVER & RIO GRANDE is probably the better, but that is just my opinion.

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    • Walter, I like that comment of yours about O’Brien giving it his all regardless of genre.
      Sometimes we think of certain performers as belonging best in particular genres – and sometimes that is largely influenced by the way they were often cast – but the fact is most of the leading players could and did move around a range of settings with relative ease. And much of that is down to their professionalism or, as you say, their giving it their all.

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