Swashbuckler Errol Flynn seems out of place in this post-Civil War western. He’s too dapper and refined to look comfortable in a cattle town. Playing a new sheriff cleaning up the riff-raff in a plot stolen by Mel Brooks for his western spoof Blazing Saddles, Flynn loses all his vitality trading the rapier for a six-gun. No matter. Flynn carries on effortlessly, breezing through his scenes with atypical whimsy while director Michael Curtiz stages masterfully crafted set pieces around him. The barroom brawl sequence is a hoot, employing hundreds of stuntmen and craggy character actors throwing each other through windows and smashing all manner of chairs, bottles, and tables over each other’s heads—instigated by a dueling song between North and South war veterans as a lively warm up for Casablanca‘s famous “Marseille” number. The romance between Flynn and pretty waif Olivia de Havilland plays out with surprising dramatic tension, having Flynn’s sheriff kill off her no-good brother during a stampede. And even though Curtiz seems a little lost knowing what to do with large groups of extras when they’re not fighting (he mostly just clutters up the frame with them), he’s an expert at milking suspense for Dodge City‘s entire running time. It’s a good thing, too—Flynn’s casual performance is helped by Curtiz’s ability to keep his star under constant threat from well-drawn villains (big heavy Bruce Cabot is square jawed and smug; character actor/sidekick Victor Jory is the epitome of dumb, single-minded badness) and from civilization run amok (random gunfights popping up all over; children getting dragged through the street tied to horses). While the climactic chase aboard a speeding train (on fire!) feels a little rushed, Dodge City is a well-crafted and perfectly capable western. Lacking the artistry of pictures made by Ford, Hawks, or Anthony Mann, it’s a B-picture made with an A-cast and, like Flynn, active and surprisingly resilient.
- Warner Bros.
- 104 min
- Michael Curtiz
- Robert Buckner
- Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Ann Sheridan, Bruce Cabot, Frank McHugh, Alan Hale, Victor Jory
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