VIRGINIA CITY (1940) 

Errol Flynn
Miriam Hopkins
Randolph Scott
Humphrey Bogart
Frank McHugh
Alan Hale
Guinn Williams
John Litel
Douglass Dumbrille
Moroni Olsen

Michael Curtiz



Time: 118 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Action/Western/Civil War

Not to be mistaken as a sequel to Flynn's earlier western adventure DODGE CITY, this similarly titled classic actually takes place during the Civil War and centers on a secret mission to smuggle millions of dollars of gold into the Confederacy. Flynn, of course, is on the Northern side of the conflict and charged with stopping his old enemy, played by Randolph Scott, from succeeding in moving the gold out of Virginia City, Nevada (a hotbed of Southern sympathy) and into Texas. There are several subplots – one involving Hopkins as an ex-Southern belle torn between her loyalty to her home and her new love for Flynn and the other about a mean-spirited, half-Mexican bandit (in an unintentionally funny turn by Bogart) who keeps turning up like a bad penny to ruin the plans of our heroes.

Rather than watering down the main mission, the subplots actually add depth to the characters' internal struggles and bring an element of real danger to the proceedings. It's a tale filled with romance, history, explosions, gunfights, self-sacrifice, true love, betrayal and honor. Though clearly on opposite sides of the issue, Flynn and Randolph's characters are both upstanding gentlemen just doing what they can to help their side win the war. If the gold gets through, it would turn the tide of the conflict, re-energizing the South's flagging spirit by providing desperately needed supplies and possibly dragging out the fighting indefinitely.

Flynn's superiors make it quite clear that his failure is not an option. However, after spending time in the enemy camp, he begins to see the situation through their eyes. The final chase through the Southwestern desert provides ample excitement as the beleaguered wagon train is forced to battle both Union soldiers and ruthless bandits. When confronted with the choice about what to do with the gold, Flynn's quick decision keeps the stash out of Confederate hands, but not exactly in the way that his superiors had intended. He personally lands in hot water, but his actions prove to be a small first step towards national unity.

"A drink? Moosehead, when I come out of that saloon Ill be so drunk that if I live to be 108 I'll die with a hangover."

While the story occasionally hits an overly sentimental note, Curtiz proves, yet again, why he was one of Hollywood's best directors. He marries the film's disparate elements – romance, action, war and humor – into a cohesive, intelligent drama that rarely lags and brings a time in our history to life. That being said, it's hard to understand what he was thinking when he allowed Bogart to be cast as a Mexican bandit. Sure he can pass for a half-breed, but his awful accent causes his supposedly merciless murderer to look ridiculous instead of terrifying. Thankfully, his part is rather small. Hopkins fares only slightly better, clearly out of her element as a saloon singer/Southern spy. She doesn't have the spunk or sex appeal to pull either occupation off. She has ample chemistry with Flynn, but who wouldn't? Her performance doesn't ruin the film, it just doesn't add much to it. While not laugh out loud funny, Hale and McHugh provide the film's comic relief and their efforts add wry amusement to the mix. Their antics give the audience a moment to breathe in between bullets.

Flynn and Scott are equally delicious as sworn enemies forced by circumstances to fight side by side. Their rivalry is well developed and at the heart of the film. They clearly respect each other, but neither is going to shirk from their duty either. The film straddles the line between North and South quite well, giving each side an equal and viable opinion. The story goes off track on occasion, but the pacing keeps the experience lively and entertaining. The fact that they shot on location for at least part of the film grants the picture a bigger scope and adds realism to the tale. VIRGINIA CITY is not a very well known film, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth a viewing. It's an intelligently produced piece with appeal for both sexes. Its' message gets a tad bit strident at the very end, but that's to be expected from a film about such a hotly contested conflict. This film does nothing to expand Flynn's range as an actor, but that's not really the point. His fans, expecting to see him save the day, will not be disappointed.

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