Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Siegel Film: The Duel At Silver Creek (1952)

The eighth in a series of appreciations of the work of director Don Siegel, courtesy of the current retrospective of his work at New York's Film Forum.

Everyone over here at Termite Art has been suffering from Don Siegel burnout, but I gave it another go with a matinee of The Duel At Silver Creek, an unpretentious little western that bears a curious resemblance to Rio Bravo, which was made seven years later.

Similarities: There's an overabundance of nicknames (Lightning Tyrone, The Silver Kid, Johnny Sombrero, as opposed to Dude, Stumpy, Colorado), an old sherrif who hires a young sureshot to be a deputy (Audie Murphy and Ricky Nelson), a tiny jail that comes under siege, and an old friend who is shot in the back that initiates the main action in the plot (Griff Barnett's Dan Muzik and Ward Bond's Pat Wheeler). Hawks liked to borrow scenarios (RB's whole intro is lifted from Von Sternberg's Underworld) so it doesn't seem farfetched to suggest he snagged a few plot points from here for his masterpiece.

Perhaps I've just been too immersed in the reprint of Robin Wood's excellent Howard Hawks book that Wayne State University has just put out, but the similarities were quite striking.

Siegel's film lacks the organic unity of Rio Bravo, though, where every action and camera set-up related to its theme of self-respect, whereas here each action exists merely to set up the next action. There is no unity of character, as the sherrif rebukes The Silver Kid (Audie Murphy) merely to advance the plot, while Faith Domergue, who plays the femme fatale "Opal Lacy" (who the sherriff nicknames "Brown Eyes"), goes from a strangling crook to a martyr at the drop of a hammer. But its pleasures aren't negligible. As usual, Siegel keeps things going at a brisk pace, and there are a few exhilarating tracking shots during the numerous chases on horseback. Plus there's a character named Johnny Sombrero, which is entertaining enough in itself, but the sherriff, Lightning Tyrone (Stephen McNally), suspects him for every crime and repeats his name constantly. It's a treat. Plus Lee Marvin plays a character named "Tinhorn Burgess". He gets precious little screentime, but his cigar chomping is unequalled, except maybe by Sam Fuller.

But what names!: the tomboy who hooks up with The Silver Kid (Audie Murphy) is named Dusty, a captured gang member is "Rat Face Blake", and "Johnny Sombrero" indeed wears a sombrero.

But bad news for me, the schedule for Film Forum's B Noir series was available there, although not yet online - and there are gems aplenty, condemning me to many more hours in those musty, rank theaters. I look forward to the Phil Karlson double bill (Kansas City Confidential and The Phenix City Story), the 3D noir Man In the Dark, and various other classics and oddities I've missed over the years, including Sam Fuller's The Crimson Kimono, Anthony Mann's Border Incident, a variety of Joseph H. Lewis, Joseph Losey, and the list goes on and on.


Blogger Matt Singer said...

I was going to go see Madigan tomorrow but I've got to go to a screening instead. B Noir sounds pretty hot though: very excited to finally see The Crimson Kimono and 3D noir is gonna be swanky. I saw Kansas City Confidential a year or two ago on DVD expecting very little and was blown away by how good it was: has to be one of the best B's of its kind. Methinks we'll be doing a Siegelesque series on Termite Art when the B Noir hits.

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Blogger Doug said...

Hey, R. Emmett --

You can see the Film Forum B Noir stuff by going to


and then clicking on the

Download Film Forum’s Spring 2006 Repertory Calendar: FRONT & BACK

link and you'll get the whole thing in PDF!

I absolutely LOVE Reign of Terror (you absolutely have to see it! Alton's cinematography is insanely out of this world!), Border Incident (Ricardo Montalban is the greatest actor who has EVER lived!), and Phenix City Story, The Well, and Losey's M all play a big role in my dissertation. (There are tons of others in the series I absolutely LOVE to death as well, but I assume you can figure out which ones those are)

See ya.

--Chuck Whitman

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