"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Duel at Silver Creek (Universal, 1952)

Don Siegel? More like Samuel Fuller.


By 1952 Audie Murphy was well established as a Western star, specializing in ‘kid’ roles. He had started in 1950 as Billy the Kid and a young Jesse James, and in The Duel at Silver Creek he plays the baby-faced Silver Kid, with two silver-plated pistols, leather jacket and the usual 1950s flappy pants. Although he got top billing, he really only has a secondary part: he doesn’t appear at all till a quarter of an hour in, and the central character of the tale is in fact the tough fast-gun marshal, Lightning Tyrone, played by Stephen McNally (baddy Dutch Henry Brown in Winchester ’73).
Not very good
The movie was, surprisingly, directed by Don Siegel. I say ‘surprisingly’ because Mr. Siegel directed some very good, even great Westerns, notably The Shootist but also good films like Flaming Star or not-too-bad ones like Two Mules for Sister Sara. However, The Duel at Silver Creek, his first Western as director, was not one of them. A 77-minute low-budget horse opera, it suffers from indifferent acting, second-class writing (Gerald Drayson Adams and Joseph Hoffman) and predictable plot. There is a cheap, even lurid or trashy tone to the picture which reminds you more of Samuel Fuller than Don Siegel (or Audie Murphy).
Don Siegel's first Western

McNally is a marshal besotted by a crooked dame, second-billed Faith Domergue, at one time touted as the next Jane Russell, in her first Western role. The year after she was to be Jeff Chandler’s squeeze in Universal’s equally clunky The Great Sioux Uprising. She and her ‘brother’ - actually her accomplice (Gerald Mohr) - are claim jumpers and con artists but she flutters her brown eyes at the marshal and twists him round her little finger. When the Silver Kid appears on the scene he sees right through her but the marshal won’t listen.

The Silver Kid
As was traditional, there is an ingénue, a young tomboyish girl to offset the sophisticated dame, Dusty (Susan Cabot in her second Western: she had had a small part as an Indian maid in Tomahawk the year before; she was to do two more oaters with Audie later). Dusty pines for the marshal, who hardly even sees her but the Silver Kid sees her alright and ends up in her arms, so that’s alright.
Iglesias as Johnny Sombrero
Eugene Iglesias is the rather absurd gunsel in a Mexican sombrero, originally named Johnny Sombrero. He was to become a regular bit-player in TV Western shows but also did a few minor roles in B-movies. He isn’t very good. He has a fellow-heavy, Rat-Face Blake from Tombstone (James Anderson as Kyle James). Together they make an unoriginal pair of gunslingers. The only real good news in the supporting cast is that Lee Marvin is in the saloon. It was only his second Western (after his uncredited role the previous year as ‘train conductor stabbed in back’ in the mighty epic Cave of Outlaws). Even with his small part he stands out in this movie.
An early Western for Lee Marvin
The story is set round Silver City and Fort Lowell but is clearly shot in California (the good old Vasquez Rocks). The scenery is adequate, though, and the cinematography (Irving Glassberg) is too – Universal did not skimp on this and all their 50s Westerns were quite good looking.

The movie’s title is pretty corny: there were duels on the Mississippi, in the Sun, at Apache Wells and Diablo, in fact all over the place.
Cabot wants McNally but he has eyes only for Domergue
It’s the sort of Western where the characters (especially Murphy, who ought to have known how to use a gun) ‘throw’ shots and manage to nail victims at two hundred yards with a forty-five. The final shoot-out in the rocks is not bad, though.

All in all, a pretty low-grade Western, and certainly not one of Audie’s best, The Duel at Silver Creek is just about watchable but in all honesty, little more.


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