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The Duel at Silver Creek

The Duel at Silver Creek
1952 / color / 1:37 flat full frame / 77 min. / Claim Jumpers / Street Date May 6, 2003 / 14.98
Starring Audie Murphy, Faith Domergue, Stephen McNally, Susan Cabot, Gerald Mohr, Eugene Iglesias, Walter Sande, Lee Marvin
Cinematography Irving Glassberg
Art Direction Alexander Golitzen, Bernard Herzbrun
Film Editor Russell F. Schoengarth
Original Music Hans J. Salter
Written by Gerald Drayson Adams and Joseph Hoffman
Produced by Leonard Goldstein
Directed by Don Siegel

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The Duel at Silver Creek is a rip-roarin', naive western shoot-em up aimed mostly at kids and fans of Audie Murphy, a juvenile exercise with a good cast and energetic direction. More serious western buffs will perhaps want to see how budding director Don Siegel keeps a brain-dead script alive with constant action.


A scurvy band of crooks led by the evil Rod Lacy (Gerald Mohr) is murdering miners for their gold claims. Luke Cromwell (Audie Murphy) loses his dad to their treachery and becomes a gambler/gunslinger known as The Silver Kid. In Silver City, marshall Lightning Tyrone (Stephen McNally) is wounded trying to pursue the claim jumpers, and suspects a snide Mexican, Johnny Sombrero (Eugene Iglesias) for the murder of an older pal. As a wound has robbed him of movement in his trigger finger, Lightning hires The Silver Kid as a deputy. Meanwhile Rod Lacy is masquerading as an honest businessman, using his 'sister' Opal (Faith Domergue) to lead the marshall into various traps. The Kid consistently rescues Lightning, while falling in love with the town tomboy, Jane 'Dusty' Fargo (Susan Cabot). Dusty pines for Lightning's attentions, Lightning is completely fooled by the perfidious Opal, and a lot of people are going to get killed before the truth of the Claim Jumpers comes out in the open.

It's in Technicolor. There's noisy gunfighting in every reel. Audie Murphy is in it. And everyone has flat, cheerful dialogue to speak, the kind heard in television shows like The Lone Ranger. Normal 2003 audiences will roll their eyes and change the channel, but Western fans will be pleasantly amused.

The Duel at Silver Creek is an efficiently-shot programmer that gets its dialogue scenes over without fuss and moves on to the action. Lots of fast moving-camera shots showcase the Chatsworth and Vasquez rocks locations - one imagines half the film being shot in one day from a moving truck. The picture is artless but looks good - Siegel makes things decorative, and occasionally breaks up the basic flatness with interesting camera motion, or a novel point of view.

The story is pap for simpletons, or happy fans of naive Western action. Nobody can figure out who is killing the miners, when tracing them should be easy - the thieves are openly selling their stolen claims. How the grinning villain played by oily Gerald Mohr makes a profit without being instantly detected, isn't clear. But that's a secondary consideration in a film composed of light conversation, a wicked female and a virtuous one, and lots and lots of shooting. To further clarify the simple story, a narration from Stephen McNally's marshall enters periodically to restate what we've just seen. The film has no flashback structure, but it's still rather odd when the omniscient-sounding storyteller is unaware of what we plainly see on the screen.

Audie Murphy is a pleasant presence. He seems more like one's brother-in-law play-acting, than a real actor. Stephen McNally has what should be the star role, were all the emphasis not on Murphy. His sheriff can no longer quick-draw but keeps walking into gunfights behaving like everything's just fine, a story point that begs for more clarity. Faith Domergue is suitably beautiful but can do little to establish a character beyond the letter of her dialogue lines, as director Siegel doesn't slow up for a minute. The best actor in the piece is spunky Susan Cabot. She keeps her tomboy part bright and peppy - in a couple years she'd be stuck in Roger Corman movies, eventually to become famous for her title role in the career-killing The Wasp Woman. Lee Marvin also gets his break as a hick with little real relevance to the plot. His sick grin at Murphy shows real promise - he'd have been great in the Johnny Sombrero role that's wasted on the laugably unimpressive Eugene Iglesias. But Marvin would also probably have been more impressive than the leading players, throwing everything off balance.

The Duel at Silver Creek wraps things up in record time. The double-crosses pile up until even Forrest Gump would know that Opal has to be guilty, but the marshall never figures it out. And there's a curious scene where the heroes torture a prisoner by chaining him to a rockface, there to be bitten by rattlesnakes. The film is too silly to be any good, and too unpretentious to dislike. Classic western fans will be charmed, even if the miners at Silver Creek are panning for gold.

Universal's The Duel at Silver Creek is a great-looking Technicolor show, with only a couple of shots that have registration problems. Even the fake Universal backlot greenery (lots of trees with bushes to hide where they meet the ground) look appealing, and Domergue is almost as pretty as Audie Murphy in his gunslinger get-up. An action-packed trailer is the only extra. Like other titles in the Universal Western Collection, the menu is backed by an obnoxious canned music cue.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Duel at Silver Creek rates:
Movie: Good infantile Western thrills
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 4, 2003

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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