Sunday, April 18, 2010

Virginia City (Michael Curtiz, 1940) -- B+

Riding on the heels of the wildly successful Dodge City (1939), Curtiz, Flynn, and company pick up right where they left off with Virginia City, an underappreciated gem that works best through the charm and gravitas of its marvelous cast. Basically, escaped Union officer Bradford (Errol Flynn) travels to Virgina City, NV in 1864 to try and stop Confederate captain Vance (Randolph Scott) from intercepting five million in gold. Also after it is Mexican outlaw John Murrell (Humphrey Bogart) which sets up a climactic showdown, though arguably the weakest of the film's three acts. What works so well are the build up scenes, specifically the face-to-face's between Flynn and Scott; Flynn's mix of grace and rugged masculinity are present, per usual, but it's Scott's Confederate captain which injects dual interest in both sides. Neither side gets caricatured or chopped down, and though a thorough discourse on the human price of blind nationalistic allegiance never quite materializes, what's on-screen serves the cast well enough. The highlight of the entire film is a patriotic dance routine sung by Miriam Hopkins, the Confederate spy playing Flynn against Scott. This particular scene chillingly explicates the conviction from which these sides fought, dedicated not to the self, but a unified whole. These convictions now seem antiquated in a post-Vietnam, post-9/11 world, yet they run much deeper than protest pathos and reveal a time where cynicism and irony weren't an option.

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