"Well, most people like it and I like it, and I'm working hard and trying to keep the cost down"

J. Russell Finch CEO & President
The Pacific Edible Seaweed Company
Fresno, CA.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

VIRGINIA CITY 1940





    While most known for his swashbuckling roles Errol Flynn also made a series of highly entertaining westerns with the best known of them being probably DODGE CITY from 1939. In 1940 he again teamed with director Michael Curtiz (with whom he made 12 films with and had an infamously volatile relationship with) for VIRGINIA CITY. Along with Warner's usual superb supporting cast including Alan Hale, Frank McHugh and Guinn "Big Boy" Williams the film also features Randolph as Flynn's adversary (both militarily and romantically). On loan here from Fox, Scott as by this time was just starting to  move up to "A" list pictures and had began to appear in more westerns.
    Also in the cast is a just on verge of stardom Humphrey Bogart as a hilariously mis-cast  Mexican outlaw (with a fading in and out accent) and Miriam Hopkins as a saloon singer/southern sympathizer who warbles several out of key songs and serves as the love interest between Scott and Flynn. Popping up in a couple quick blink and you'll miss 'em scenes are also Paul Fix and Ward Bond.


   Like most of the Flynn/Warner historical based films VIRGINIA CITY takes a smidgen of historical fact and then turns them into an entertaining romp through the appropriate historical period. Flynn plays Capt. Kerry Bradford who along with Alan Hale and "Big Boy" are being held in a Confederate prison during the later stages of the American Civil War. The prison is under the command of Capt. Vance Irby (Scott). Irby allows the prisoners to almost complete an escape tunnel before foiling the plot which causes Flynn to swear vengeance upon him. Later after a successful escape Flynn and his two cohorts are sent to Virginia City, NV. to thwart a Confederate plan to smuggle $5,000,000 in gold back to Richmond Va. in order to help the south's war effort.
   The Confederate officer in charge of the gold shipment is of course played by Scott with Hopkins playing a spy/dance hall girl in Virginia City who while initially romantically attached to Scott, is soon in the sights of Flynn. Scott enlists the help of Mexican outlaw Bogart (with the rather odd name of "John Murrell") to help get the gold out of Virginia but Morrell has plans of his own. Although clocking in at a lengthy 121 minutes the movie rips and roars through its running time and is a great example of the studio system firing on all cylinders (although I still have a preference for the previous years technicolor DODGE CITY) as Curtiz could direct stuff like this in his sleep and he never lets the story drag.
  Flynn while never wholly believable in his western roles (there's always some back story to explain his Irish or Australian presence) brings his usual daredevil bravado while Randolph Scott as the gallant Southern officer is a role that he was born to play and he and Flynn are quite good together (although supposedly they didn't get along). Lastly (but surely not least), you've got Alan Hale and Guinn "Big Boy" Williams trading one-liners.


   The one thing missing from here is the presence of Olivia De Havilland as Hopkins seems to have zero chemistry with her male leads and like Bogart seems oddly mis-cast here. By this time De Havilland was getting a bit tired of being "Errol Flynn's girl" and was increasingly voicing her displeasure to Jack Warner at her roles, although as favor to Flynn she would do THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON in 1941. The movie would seem at first glance to be a sequel to 1939's DODGE CITY as at the end of that movie the main characters including Flynn, de Havilland along Hale and Williams head off to Virginia City, but nothing is made of it in the plot.
    Along with monster movies when I was a kid, I watched a ton of westerns and it didn't take me long to to make a special effort to catch the Randolph Scott ones. Seeing such films RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, THE TALL T and the subject of this post for the first time at an early age was a major factor that helped turn me into a movie geek. A big thanks to Toby over at 50 Westerns from the 50's  for putting this together.





7 comments:

  1. Nice review and a nice choice!
    I have often wondered why technicolor was not used again here, after the success of 'Dodge City", although I am perfectly happy with monochrome. Flynn was at the height of his success and his films at that time were hugely entertaining.
    Scott's role was subservient yet absolutely key and showed how authoritive he was in the western setting he was born for.
    It is a film that, like you, I saw early in my life and contributed much to making the western a lifelong passion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks - It's a really good one - and I find it grows in stature for me as I get older.

      Delete
  2. As a follow-up to Dodge City this isn't quite as good. I mostly like Flynn's westerns - only San Antonio and Montana were poor in my opinion.
    There was some odd casting in this though - Bogart was a questionable choice and, for my money, Hopkins was too old for the role she was playing.

    Colin

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks - I think at this stage in Bogart's career they were still sticking him in any thing they could find (until next years double whammy of HIGH SERRA and MALTESE FALCON pushed him into the upper ranks.
      Miriam Hopkins is a really odd choice for the movie - especially with all the other actresses Warners had under contract at the time (for instance Ann Sheridan).

      Delete
    2. Yes, Sheridan is a good call, especially bearing in mind how well she did opposite Flynn in the later Silver River.

      Colin

      Delete
    3. Of course, I've got 50s Westerns tunnelvision, but I really love Rocky Mountain. Flynn's so good in it, and the ending -- ""They've seen our backs, let's show them our faces" -- is so powerful.

      I really need to revisit these earlier Scott Westerns.

      Delete
  3. I've never had a problem with Flynn in westerns, but this one is all over the place and never really found a home in my heart.

    ReplyDelete