My last remaining western, Silver Lode didn’t seem to offer much to me before I started it, and I was ready to file it away as just another western that made the list, as well as a disappointing finish to my exploration of the genre. Thankfully, the film itself is more than just another western, if only just, and only in ways that other films on the list have covered already. The Book makes a big deal about how this is a true Allan Dwan picture, and all the technical shots and compositions he uses to make it so, but I didn’t care about any of that. In Silver Lode’s case, I cared about the story, and it was a good one.
Dan Ballard is a resident the past 2 years of the small town of Silver Lode, currently getting ready for its 4th of July celebration, as well as ringing in Dan’s wedding day. That is, until U.S. Marshal McCarty rides in with a warrant for Dan’s arrest, along with the claim that Dan shot the marshal’s brother in the back and stole $20,000 from the man. The town is quick to rally behind him, but as the film goes on (largely in real time), opinions begin to sway in the other direction, as Dan tries to go about proving his innocence. If the plot sounds vaguely familiar, you’re not alone; it’s basically a combination of High Noon and The Ox-Bow Incident, a comparison not lost on pretty much every other review I’ve seen on this one. Whether or not such a combination is worth an additional slot on the list is a debate I’m certainly not going to be able to settle, but for what it’s worth, this was a surprisingly gripping picture. It’s all plot-driven, so thank the scriptwriter for making it a damn good plot, able to worm its way into you so that your allegiances and sympathies with Dan Ballard begin to shift ever so slightly toward the growing public opinion… and therein lies Silver Lode’s (and Ox-Bow Incident’s) moral lesson. One other reviewer put it absolutely perfectly; this is a film all about how one man’s life and the image of security can be thrown away at the drop of a hat all on one person’s lying word, and that’s a lesson we do need hammered into us now and again.
If this film isn’t getting any higher a rating from me, it’s basically because of its redundancy; you really can watch High Noon and The Ox-Bow Incident, combine the two in your head, and you no longer have any reason or need to see Silver Lode. Even its credentials as a western are the bare minimum at best, with no overarching shots of the landscape and only the essentials of western films included basically so that the film fits into the genre. Still, this was pretty good, for pretty much any reason any oldie Hollywood film can be considered pretty good.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10