Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dodge City (1939)

Errol Flynn in a western?

The Hollywood legend is remembered more for his adventures on sea (Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk) than his work with a six-shooter.

But here he is in his first of about a half-dozen westerns.

Dodge City is a keeper complete with everything a fan of the genre would expect - a bumbling sidekick, a fine romance, plenty of action and some good laughs.

The American Civil War is over and the western United States is beginning to be developed. Wade Hatton (Flynn) and his buddies Rusty Hart (Alan Hale) and Tex Baird (Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams) have finished work on a rail line leading to Dodge City, Kansas.

Col. Dodge (Henry O'Neill) appeals to Haddon to stay in the town named in his honour. Hatton declines, opting instead to head further west. His departure doesn't happen before he helps with the arrest of Jeff Surrett (Bruce Cabot). He has hunted buffalo illegally and murdered Indians. Surrett vows revenge.

Hatton opts to return to Dodge City six years later. A young lady who's made the move to the now booming community, Abbie Irving (Olivia de Havilland), has caught his eye. He also gets fed up with the on-going violence in Dodge after youngster Harry Cole (Bobs Watson) gets caught up in a gunfight. The unruly community ("The town that knew no ethics, but cash and killing.") and is ruled by Surrett and his enforcers, especially Yancey (Victor Jory), has a new sheriff with Hatton.

He moves quickly to bring order to the community. Restrictions are put on weapons. Hours of gambling are curtailed. Taxes are introduced. A clash with his old friend Surrett is inevitable. He's now a cattle kingpin earning a $100,000 annually (wonder what that coin is worth now?). The clean-up job is so efficient Tex wants to leave. "I just don't fit in a sissy town like this."

Dodge City, directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, White Christmas) boasts some very fine Technicolor shots of the American west. There's an amazing barroom brawl between old Civil War enemies. Hart has taken a temperance pledge before coming to Dodge City. Watch for the very funny scene when he's tempted to go into Surrett's saloon, opts instead to attend a temperance meeting next door and struggles with his decision.

Flynn looks great and presents Hatton as a soft-talking enforcer who won't put up with any guff in his town. Jory is impressive as Surrett's henchman. Cabot does well too as the chief villian who tries to lure Hatton into an arrangement that can make both men happy. de Havilland is radiant and feisty as Irving, a woman who's reluctant to embrace Hatton's wooing attempts.

Dodge City is a great western with a fine cast. Watch it.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Bruce Cabot was in the cast of the original King Kong.

Alan Hale's son, Alan Hale, Jr., was the Skipper in Gilligan's Island.

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