The Duel at Silver Creek (1952)
Audie gets Dusty
The only way to turn up worms is by scratchin' for them! - Lightning Tyrone
With a gang of claim jumpers making life hard for all small claim owners it becomes an unsafe world as they force them to sign over the claims before killing them. But they made an enemy in Luke Cromwell (Audie Murphy - The Cimarron Kid) when they kill his father and injure him. They also make an enemy of Marshal Lightning Tyrone (Stephen McNally - Winchester '73) when they shoot his deputy in his absence as he convalesces from a gun shot wound. Cromwell and Tyrone find themselves joining forces but with Tyrone taking an interest in Opal Lacy (Faith Domergue) tensions run high as not only is Opal a femme fatal but it is Opal and her brother Rod (Gerald Mohr) who are behind all the trouble, running things secretly right under everyone's noses.
One of the first things which strikes you about "The Duel at Silver Creek" is that we have a narration but not some cheesy western narration, this sounds more like film noir as the facts are explained and actions are fore warned. It almost seems strange to have this narration often cropping up in the style of a detective movie but it adds something very different to the mix and one of the reasons why this seemingly ordinary western ends up more interesting than you might expect.
The same can be said of the actual story because we have strange embellishments which on paper feel like they shouldn't work but then end up adding to the almost quirky enjoyment. Within minutes of meeting the attractive and seductive Opal Lacy we learn the she is a femme fatale, secretly killing those who are a threat. It's not just Opal which feels different as we have Audie Murphy playing good guy Luke 'The Silver Kid' Cromwell but this is a good guy who dresses in bad guy black. Not just that we also have Audie's youthful looks mocked in a brilliant scene where he is put down with a question about when will he start to shave. It's almost comedic especially with Lee Marvin playing the bad guy who puts him down but never is "The Duel at Silver Creek" a comedy, rather a western where Don Siegel cleverly makes fun of the genre and the cliches.
It is because of Don Siegel's vision for "The Duel at Silver Creek" that it ends up feeling more than just another Audie Murphy western. Yet behind this vision it is a familiar storyline which sees young Luke teaming up with Marshal Lightning Tyrone to not only try and find who killed his friend Dan but also find the gang of claim jumpers who killed Luke's father. It basically serves up the corrupt local businessman storyline with a revenge storyline making it a little more interesting with the fact that the local businessman and his femme fatale sister keeping their illegal operation quiet. It's an important twist as whilst we get not one but two obligatory romantic sub plots the one where Marshal Tyrone falls for Opal and can't believe that she is a murderous vixen adds something extra.
Now what is surprising is that when you think of Don Siegel you often think brutal violence, the guy had an eye for action yet the action in "The Duel at Silver Creek" feels quite ordinary. There are some nice fast draws going on as both Luke and Lightning Tyrone being fast on the draw but the big action scenes end up rather ordinary. Even a duel between Marshal Tyrone and local gun slinger Johnny Sombrero isn't that spectacular.
In a way the influence of Don Siegel also brings out the best in the actors as well as whilst Audie Murphy as Luke Cromwell, aka The Silver Kid, is basically playing a handsome looking hero he seems to bring colour to the character, making him as sharp witted as he is on the draw. The same can be said of Stephen McNally who plays Marshal Lightning Tyrone as whilst the character is a cliche it ends up a fun cliche full of smart talk. And it goes on as Susan Cabot is a cliche as love interest Dusty but her feistiness seems more than you normally get from such an obligatory character and Faith Domergue is just wonderfully devious as well as sexy as femme fatale Opal Lacy. The only poor character is the comically named Johnny Sombrero because the falseness of the character is too much and so is the wide eyed performance of Eugene Iglesias.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "The Duel at Silver Creek" maybe technically a B-movie it is one of the most entertaining western B-movies you can watch. The embellishments to the familiar story and the quirky styling as well as the inclusion of a femme fatale and a film noir style narration makes it feel so different, comical with out ever being a comedy. And because it feels different, as if Don Siegel was almost making fun of western cliches, it has an edge to it missing from so many other western B-movies.
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