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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

SILVER CITY / HIGH VERMILION (1951)

Oscar’d for his publicity hack in THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA/’54; famous for informing the cops that he’s just been murdered at the beginning of D.O.A.; Edmund O’Brien was a good utility player, best known for playing stocky, sweaty urban men in crisis. But he also made a fistful of Westerns, including the lead in this neatly plotted story of a mining expert with a bad rep that keeps him on the move. Yvonne De Carlo is the sweet young thing (hey!, De Carlo was never a sweet young thing) who gives him a second chance running her pop’s silver claim before their lease runs out. But Barry Fitzgerald, remarkably menacing as the greedy owner, doesn’t want to lose that good silver vein and pulls off a series of dirty tricks to stop the digging. Meanwhile . . . O’Brien’s past is catching up to him and he’s got to stop the mine sabotage without being sidetracked by having to prove his innocence. It should be a swell little ‘B-pic,’ but Byron Haskins’ megging is frankly lousy with poorly staged action work and a sense of desperation in every undercranked chase. (Undercranking: the flop-sweat of action scenes.) Worse, TechniColor pioneer Ray Rennahan shoots as if it’s still 1935 and he’s got to show off his levels of color saturation. Still, the story plays out reasonably well, there’s a deft, scary chase thru a wood cutting mill (careful, boys!) and a nice range of supporting players like Richard Arlen, Gladys George & a tall, drink o’ water named Michael Moore. Michael Moore?

DOUBLE-BILL: O’Brien plays support in two Western Classics, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE/’62 and THE WILD BUNCH/’69. But why not give yourself the pleasant shock of seeing his film debut as a sweetly handsome, slim & cute poetic stripling in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME/’39.

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