Silver Lode (1954)

Director: Allan Dwan

This film seems to cop many comparisons to High Noon, and I suppose some of them are fair; that film was a kind of allegory of McCarthyist Hollywood, and so is this one (rather less subtle about it, too, with the villain actually being called McCarty). There is, however, a fairly crucial distinction between the two: Gary Cooper’s sheriff in High Noon just has to deal with the impending threat of the killer coming after him and the moral cowardice of his fellow townsfolk, but John Payne’s relative newcomer, Ballard, has to face a threat that’s already there in town, and the townsfolk become an active part of that threat as the film progresses. Basically, it’s a small Western town, it’s the fourth of July, Ballard is getting married, and the festivities are kind of interrupted by the arrival of a US Marshall and his deputies, who’ve come to town with a warrant for Ballard’s arrest on a charge of murder. The dead man just so happens to be the Marshall’s brother, too. Now, we may guess there’s something not entirely right about this situation—and it’s not really spoiling anything to say that this proves to be the case—but the good people of Silver Lode are, evidently, a bit more impressed by McCarty’s authority (however “borrowed”), and the existing suspicions some have about Ballard—a recent arrival with an unknown past—gradually become amplified by McCarty’s allegations until the mob turns on Ballard when it looks like he’s killed the sheriff… and his situation is complicated somewhat by him having actually killed McCarty’s brother and actually being the gunslinger they fear he is. Dwan doesn’t use the “real-time” narrative method of High Noon, but he does a pretty splendid job of building the tension up; as I noted, Ballard has rather more to face than Will Kane does, and the ending of Silver Lode is rather more overtly angry than that of its putative model. Unfortunately I haven’t seen High Noon in more years than I can count (should remedy that), so I can’t say which of the two I prefer. Taking Silver Lode on its own terms, therefore, I enjoyed it greatly.


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