Sunday, June 30, 2013

Silver Lode

Ratsastavat hurjat / Stad i panik / La campana ha suonato. US © 1954 RKO Radio Pictures. D: Allan Dwan. Scen.: Karen De Wolf. DP: John Alton. ED: James Leicester. AD: Van Nest Polglase. M: Louis Forbes. C: John Payne (Dan Ballard), Lizabeth Scott (Rose Evans), Dan Duryea (Fred McCarty), Dolores Moran (Dolly), Emile Meyer (sceriffo Woolley), Robert Warwick (giudice Cranston), John Hudson (Mitch Evans), Harry Carey Jr. (Johnson), Alan Hale Jr. (Kirk), Stuart Whitman (Wicker), Frank Sully (Paul Herbert), Morris Ankrum (Zachary Evans). P: Benedict Bogeaus per Pinecrest Productions. Premiere: 24 giugno 1954. 35 mm. 80'. Col. Da: George Eastman House per concessione di Sikelia Productions. Cinema Jolly, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, e-subtitles in Italian, 30 June 2013

Peter von Bagh: "If there's a single unifying theme to Dwan's work", writes Peter Bogdanovich in the introduction to his interview with Allan Dwan, "it has a lot to do with the amazing diversity of people and with an optimistic sense of humanity; his generosity and of-ten genial humor are there throughout". The films are about the lives of simple people and their innocence, ordinary and dignified lives reflected with a "profound sense of the essential indomitability and deathlessness of the human spirit". Well,  looking  at  Silver  Lode:  whateverhappened to people? Evidently the film delivers a message from hard times - the years of McCarthyism about which Dwan's film is, from any angle, one of the finest testimonies, even if it was seen at the time as a routine programmer - John Payne instead of John Wayne. Among the many fine westerns of the genre's great- est decade, no film seems to be more ordinary; Serge Daney hailed the air de famille of that period, the return of "the days of the intimate western", inseparably archaic and refined, and creating the magic of a "story about a secret". Daney addressed his words as well to the beginning of a fabulous period in Dwan's oeuvre: ten films (in five years) with the producer Bogeaus Benedict and (mostly) the legendary cinematographer John Alton (including films like The Cattle Queen of Montana, Tennessee's Partner, Slightly Scarlet, The River's Edge). Silver Lode is both a timely and an original masterpiece, not at all just a happy accident of a good script. Dwan projects an image that is so deep that there is no need to show it: peace of mind, a sense of paradise lost. The beauty of the concept is that the prismatic image arises directly from the mise-en-scène, as Jacques Lourcelles indicates when he wrote that the film has "an absolute classicism": "Dramatically, Dwan uses with genius and perhaps with more intensity than anyone before him in the cinema the  constraint and the discipline of the three unities. As to the mise-en-scène properly speaking, it creates the triumph of the kind of shot arrangement known as 'classical', enriched by prodigious single shot sequences with a moving camera that punctuate the strongest moments in the story". Dwan himself was, as were his ways, modest: "This is not, properly speaking, a political film, as it has been called. It is more of a satirical description of a hypocritical small community. I like the theme a lot: a man is condemned for false reasons and he is also set free for false reasons". Perhaps Silver Lode was not a political film, but its ironic twists come to the same thing - the portrait of a political age and its soulless mindscape is no less vigorous for being veiled by the Western setting. The distanced format is even an asset; it heightens the sense of mental terror, brutal uniformity and demagogic evil lurking in all the sacred institutions: school, the Mayor's office, the court, church. There is no hope from any of them, only lying, pretensions, cowardly behavior, greediness and a stream of false testimonies. Deep dislike is targeted against a civilization gone wrong: mentally lazy and aggressive good citizens turn so easily into a lynch mob. Finally, one nice detail, never overlooked: the villain, played by the magnificent Dan Duryea, even has a familiar name - McCarty..." Peter von Bagh

From familiar ingrediants, a taut and lean Western with a good script, sharp dialogue, excellent mise-en-scène, a strong approach to action sequences, and a satiric view about society and morality.

I have been intrigued by the cinema's obsession about the cancelled wedding, and Silver Lode is a film entirely based on one. The Fourth of July is the wedding day for Dan and Rose, and then rides into town one Mr. McCarty, presenting himself and his men as a federal marshal with his deputies. They have come to arrest Dan, accused of murder and robbery two years ago.

Silver Lode has been constructed as a classical drama, respecting the unities of time, place and action. Within two hours Dan needs to clear his reputation, but McCarty's gang has cut the telegraph wires, and they know that on a national holiday the Sacramento authorities cannot be reached anyway.

Some of the sharpest truths are uttered by the women, including the saloon hostess Dolly (Dolores Moran), Dan's girlfriend before Rose. The townspeople are quick to believe McCarty's accusations. Soon there is a lethal escalation of violence, which makes Dan look very bad, indeed.

In the funniest scene of the movie Rose and Dolly escort the reluctant telegrapher to his office, to finally to send the telegraph to verify or disqualify McCarty's claims. (First after everything has already been settled comes the answer confirming that it was McCarty himself who was wanted for murder and rustling.)

The showdown takes place at a church tower. McCarty is killed by his own bullet which ricochets from the bell. "An act of God". Everybody is sweating.

Into the sunny atmosphere of the "safe and sane Fourth of July" dark forces have suddenly erupted. "Mob violence is the death of any town" states a voice of reason, and that is what has now happened. There is a happy ending with misgivings.

The GEH / Sikelia print is intact and clean, turning very slightly red. The breaks between the reel changes were so extended that I had to cancel what I had planned to see next.

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