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DUEL AT SILVER CREEK (director: Don Siegel; screenwriters: from the story by Gerald Drayson Adams/Joseph Hoffman; cinematographer: Irving Glassberg; editor: Russell Schoengarth; music: Hans J. Salter; cast: Audie Murphy (Silver Kid/Luke Cromwell,), Stephen McNally (Lightning Tyrone), (Opal Lacy), Eugene Iglesias (Johnny Sombrero), Susan Cabot (Dusty Fargo), Gerald Mohr (Rod Lacy), Walter Sande (Pete Fargo), Lee Marvin (Tinhorn Burgess), Kyle James (Rat Face Blake), Eugene Iglesias (Johnny Sombrero), Griff Barnett (Dan ‘Pop’ Muzik), Harry Harvey (Father Cromwell), Wheaton Chambers (Doctor Hargrove); Runtime: 78; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Leonard Goldstein; Universal-International; 1952)
“Siegel gets the most out of this routine formulaic revenge Western as he can.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is director Don Siegel’s (“Rough Cut”/”Dirty Harry”/”Coogan’s Bluff “) first film in color and his first Western. The story told is that the producer Leonard Goldstein told the agent Gersh he wanted Don Siegel to direct the next action pic he was shooting. This prompted the agent to rush to the phone and tell Siegel if he signs with him immediately he can guarantee getting him to direct an action pic. Siegel signed, but if he only waited a little longer Goldstein would have signed him anyway and he would have saved paying ten per cent to the agent.

Siegel gets the most out of this routine formulaic revenge Western as he can. He uses colorful names for characters such as Johnny Sombrero, Lightning, Rat Face, ‘Pop’ Muzik and Tinhorn, and takes a tongue-in-cheek attitude toward the action scenes. The screen play written by Gerald Drayson Adams and Joseph Hoffman is nothing special, but it has a pleasingly quirky flavor. Though far from a great film, it was nevertheless spirited and highly entertaining. The film’s star is former war hero Audio Murphy, who is not a versatile actor but is believable.

The film opens with a gang of vicious claim jumpers led by the oily Rod Lacy (Gerald Mohr) killing Luke Cromwell’s (Audie Murphy) father (Harry Harvey) to steal his claim. The gang jumps small time miners and kills them, and then turns the claim over to Lacy to sell to unsuspecting buyers. When another miner is gunned down by the claim-jumpers, the fearless marshal of Silver Creek, Lightning Tyrone (Stephen McNally), rounds up a posse to go after them. But they escape and he gets winged in the shoulder of his shooting hand. He’s treated at Fort Lowell. Another badly wounded miner is brought in by the posse, but the sister of Rod, Opal Lacy (Faith Domergue), claims to be a nurse and when left alone with the patient garrotes him to death with her kerchief so he won’t identify them (the scene calls for a suspension of disbelief). Lightning becomes smitten with the fancy dresser and calls her “Brown Eyes.” She shamelessly uses him by leading him on, as he’s too blind to see that she’s evil. Rod recently opened up an office in Silver City as a mining engineer, and hired the untrustworthy outlaw Johnny Sombrero (Eugene Iglesias). Upon his return, Lightning is only partially recovered–he still can’t pull the trigger, but keeps it a secret. Lightning learns that his mentor, the likable old-timer ‘Pop’ Muzik (Griff Barnett) was shot in the back while he was recovering at the fort. The marshal suspects the snide Sombrero, who would like to kill him if he could. The marshal hires a drifter gambler who calls himself the Silver Kid (Audie Murphy) to watch his back as a deputy. The Silver Kid is even faster on the draw than Lightning. The Kid takes time out from hunting down his dad’s killers to court the town tomboy ‘Dusty’ Fargo (Susan Cabot), who has a schoolgirl crush on Lightning and at first gives the Kid the bum’s rush.

After a few traps are set for claim jumpers, the film reaches its boiling point when the gullible Lightning finally wakes up and smells the coffee to realize his Brown Eyes is a treacherous snake. This leads to the truth about the claim jumpers, and a final shootout in their mountain hideout as the posse led by Lightning and the Silver Kid rescue the kidnapped Dusty and take care of the baddies. At the same time, Dusty wakes up and kisses the Kid. It actually plays better than it sounds, thanks to a filmmaker who knows how to make the implausible seem plausible.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”