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SILVER RIVER (director: Raoul Walsh; screenwriters: based on a novel by Stephen Longstreet/Stephen Longstreet/Harriet Frank Jr.; cinematographer: Sidney Hickox; editor: Alan Crosland, Jr.; music: Max Steiner; cast: Errol Flynn (Capt. Mike McComb), Ann Sheridan (Georgia Moore), Thomas Mitchell (John Plato Beck), Bruce Bennett (Stanley Moore), Tom D’Andrea (Pistol Porter), Barton MacLane (Banjo Sweeney), Monte Blue (Buck Chevigee), Jonathan Hale (Maj. Spencer), Alan Bridge (Sam Slade), Joseph Crehan (President Grant), Arthur Space (Major Ross); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Owen Crump; Warner Bros.; 1948)
“Offers a few good stirring moments before it stumbles into an uninteresting cautious morality tale.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This rousing in parts, but overall average b/w western, was the last film Errol Flynn and Raoul Walsh (“Gentleman Jim”/”They Died With Their Boots On”/”Uncertain Glory”) made together (they made seven in total, but Walsh had enough of Flynn’s drinking on the set and not being able to act in the afternoons because he was so drunk). Though it’s a lesser film than those better known ones they previously made– it nevertheless follows the same trajectory and offers a few good stirring moments before it stumbles into an uninteresting cautious morality tale. It’s based on a novel by Stephen Longstreet, who cowrites it with Harriet Frank Jr.

During the Civil War, the brash Mike McComb (Errol Flynn) is a Union Army captain, who during the battle of Gettysburg disobeys orders to remain with the payroll wagon and burns the one million dollar payroll so that the charging Rebs don’t get it. As a result, Mike gets court martialed and is unfairly cashiered out of the Army. Mike thereby vows to follow from now on only his own rules. With his loyal friend “Pistol” Porter (Tom D’Andrea), he heads West. Mike uses his street smarts to confiscate the money and equipment of a dishonest gambling house next to an Army camp, and becomes a riverboat gambler heading for Silver City, Nevada, to open a saloon and gambling hall. To get his equipment there he must stave off his thuggish gambling house rival “Banjo” Sweeney (Barton MacLane) and outsmart the beautiful feisty wife of the Silver River mining company, Georgia Moore (Ann Sheridan), to get the wagon master (Alan Bridge) to haul his stuff. Mike’s Silver City gambling saloon is successful, and he hires the down-and-out alcoholic John Plato Beck (Thomas Mitchell) to be his lawyer. When Georgia’s refined mining engineer husband Stanley (Bruce Bennett) doesn’t have the cash to haul his mining equipment, Mike sells him his wagons for a share in the mines. Mike schemes to take Georgia away from her husband, and soon connives his way into being partners with Stanley in the mine and then partners with all the other miners, even opening up a bank.

In the effort to expand their silver production, as requested by President Ulysses S.Grant (Joseph Crehan, the Grant lookalike played him in nine films) so the country can become a creditor nation, Stanley volunteers to go to the Black Rock range of mountains to check things out on a surveying trip, but is killed by the Shoshone Indians who are on the warpath. Beck relates this to the King David story in the Bible, of the king who once sent the army captain husband of the woman he loved to his death in battle. Mike now wins over Georgia and builds a marble castle for his bride. But the miners turn against Mike when told by an irate Beck about the “King David and Bathsheba” story, and the miners cause a run on the bank by withdrawing their money from the scoundrel’s bank. This causes Mike to declare himself bankrupt, as his empire falls because of his hubris. How the immoral silver magnate gets back on his feet again by suddenly rebelling against the prevailing political corruption and gets even with chief rival Sweeney for killing senatorial candidate Beck, is the unconvincing stuff one sees in all second-rate Westerns (though it was shot as an A western, with high production values).

The dark film was not received well by the public, probably because Flynn plays such an unsympathetic character who never gets the comeuppance he deserves.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”