Workhorse director Allan Dwan, on the job since the early ‘teens, must have been scratching his head at the wavering tone of this hussified Western. Not that any such niceties slowed the old pro down. It’s a tricked up Civil War tale, mostly serious, but with a bemused air, about a border town (Border City, natch) where deeds of non-neutrality are met with a rope by Madam Mayor. A wary truce keeps the Yankees five miles North & the Rebs five South, which doesn’t stop Quantrill’s Raiders from riding in to seize the town’s secret lead deposits. But the real action plays out between Quantrill’s spitfire wife (Audrey Totter) and that new gal in town, Joan Leslie, an upstanding type who inherits Border City’s racy saloon from her murdered brother. Often faintly ridiculous, but staged with a mixture of solid craftsmanship & sheer carelessness; you get the feeling everyone’s phoning in-between shots, begging their agent to get them off it. (Even lenser Reggie Lanning whose interiors are flooded with enough light to shop for produce.) John Lund, as a townie who hides his Confederate commission to woo Leslie, is duller than usual, letting us know at the end that ‘No one won the war, we just stopped fighting.’ Right.
DOUBLE-BILL: Wilder Western femininity can be found in JOHNNY GUITAR/’54, with a classic score from Victor Young & Peggy Lee who wrote one of this film’s two ill-fitting tunes. OR: See Brian Donlevy’s first crack at Quantrill in KANSAS RAIDERS/’50. Even better (if you can find it): stick with Dwan for SILVER LODE/’54, a smash little Western from the following year.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The good folks at Olive Films sourced a near-mint print for this transfer, but someone wasn’t paying attention to the audio which is riddled with ‘wow & flutter’ whenever there’s music on the soundtrack.