Dodge City (1939)

Director: Michael Curtiz

More wild frontier justice and stuff! This would’ve been one of the other big westerns of 1939 (I’m guessing, by the release dates, it would’ve been in production around the same time as Stagecoach), and it’s a markedly bigger-looking film than Destry, not least because it’s in colour; I don’t know what Destry cost, so I can’t compare the two on those terms, but apparently this one cost a million, which you can pretty much see on the screen. Quite apart from the Technicolor (which would’ve added to the cost by itself), this is a big production. Mind you, it seems a little bit torn about that bigness; you think at first it’s going to be one of those kind of self-consciously “epic” great-American-myth westerns, and to some extent it is (if a notably historically inaccurate one, and one in which the opening race between the horses and the steam train amusingly recalled Turksib for me), but then once the action starts in Dodge City itself—already a hotbed of violence and corruption where you can’t even take kids out for a Sunday school picnic without getting caught in crossfire—the film seems to kind of ease back on that and settle for, you know, a straighter version of Destry‘s story of a one-horse town being cleaned up by another actor making his western debut, i.e. Errol Flynn… the latter is a trail boss who rather reluctantly dons the sheriff’s badge in order to combat the criminal rule of an old opponent from out on the range. What kind of struck me was that, despite his adherence to the law, Flynn’s sheriff seems to come close to becoming a law unto himself in the process of civilising the place; maybe it’s just how I read the character, but it’s something the film doesn’t otherwise explore… Anyway, Dodge City was a big hit back in the day and I can understand why, though something about it didn’t quite engage me as I’d hoped it might. I must say the climax on the burning train is pretty amazing stuff, though.

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