REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

SILVER LODE. RKO, 1954. John Payne, Lizabeth Scot, Dan Duryea, Morris Ankrum, Harry Carey Jr. Robert Warrick, Dolores Moran, Emile Meyer, and Frank Sully. Written by Karen DeWolf. Directed by Alan Dwan. Available on DVD, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video.

   Probably the most explicit anti-McCarthy film of its time, and a pretty good “Town” Western besides.

   “Town Westerns” of course are those that largely forsake the wide-open spaces associated with the genre, and focus the action in and around a small community. They can get a bit static and talky, but there are some fine ones: FACE OF A FUGITIVE, DECISION AT SUNDOWN, BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK, RIO BRAVO…. Feel free to add your favorites in the list, but try to include SILVER LODE.

   The film opens with a quartet of Owlhoots riding into town, led by a stubble-faced Dan Duryea as a character named McCarty — could it get more obvious? Turns out that a well-loved local man (John Payne) is about to Marry Lizabeth Scott when Duryea/McCarty disrupts the ceremony. He has papers identifying hm as a US Marshal, a warrant to arrest Payne for murder, and a glint in his eye that says Payne will never make it to trial.

   What follows will be familiar to anyone who has seen HIGH NOON or its imitations: Payne’s friends rally to his side, then drop away one by one as suspicion mounts against him. To be fair to them, at one point he’s found standing over the murdered Sheriff (Emile Meyer) with a smoking gun, but director Alan Dwan keeps the talky parts commendably brief and un-preachy.

   Thus, SILVER LODE emerges as a well-crafted cat-and-mouse game, Payne trying to find some lever against Duryea, and Duryea chipping away at his reputation with innuendos and half-truths—character assassination in aid of physical murder.

   Karen DeWolf, a prolific writer of B Movies, makes it seem fresh by keeping the characters on the move, seldom seen on the same set twice, and never for very long. She also makes a fine job of giving Lizabeth Scott and Dolores Moran (as a tarty Saloon Gal) roles that are more than decorative. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that they manage to shape the story without breaking character. Indeed, DeWolf uses their positions in the social strata of the town so well I began to wonder if this was a Chick-Western.

   No fear of that though. Dwan keeps up the pace and tension as few could, culminating in a bell tower chase-and shoot-out that caps the action perfectly. Where some Town Westerns tend to get verbose and self-important, SILVER LODE delivers its anti-McCarthy message with style and a disarming lack of pretension.

   I also want to put in a word here about Frank Sully. A busy character actor in films as diverse as THE GRAPES OF WRATH and THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU, he specialized in dumb cops, dumb hoods, dumb cowboys and the occasional yokel, and he always gave it his all. SILVER LODE features Sully as a rattled telegrapher, and he manages to inject his own sense of humor quite effectively into a scene played for tension.