Friday, April 2, 2010

Virginia City

Errol Flynn! Randolph Scott! Humphrey Bogart! Alan Hale!

What's not to love? Well, this 1940 black and white movie, unfortunately. According to text displayed at the beginning of the movie, the story is based on historical events. Virginia City takes place during the Civil War and sets Randolph Scott's character, Captain Vance Irby, a Confederate soldier, against Errol Flynn's character, a Union soldier-spy named Captain Kerry Bradford. Humphrey Bogart plays a Mexican villain, Miriam Hopkins plays the love interest, and Alan Hale plays a sidekick to Flynn.

Except that, contrary to my assumption, this is not the same Alan Hale who appeared as the lawyer in The Girl in Boxcar #3. Rather, this is Alan Hale, Sr., the father of the ASJ guest star. I had no idea until I read his bio that it was a different person! His son looks exactly the same and sounds the same, too. That, and the fact that I kept trying to identify Paul Fix (the prosecutor in The Day They Hanged Kid Curry, Clarence in Night of the Red Dog, and Bronc in Only Three to a Bed), who had a small role as a sidekick to Bogart, helped make Virginia City somewhat interesting.

The movie starts off in a prisoner-of-war camp in the East where we are introduced to all the characters but then shifts to Virginia City, Nevada, for the remainder of the film. Captain Bradford has been sent there to stop a shipment of silver, dug from mines owned by Southern sympathizers, from being sent East to prop up the Confederacy, which is in its last gasps of existence at this point in time.

There were many scenes that, taken individually, were interesting but the movie as a whole did not captivate me even though the performances of Flynn and of Scott, who looked very young, were very good. Bogart looked weird with a mustache and a bit off-kilter, not at all like the characters in his other movies. Hale, along with another actor, played the comic relief. But perhaps it was because I knew from the start that the attempt to ship the silver to the Confederacy was doomed, since the Union won the war, that I didn't thoroughly enjoy Virginia City.

But I thought Miriam Hopkins was excellent. Her character, Julia Hayne, was demure as a Southern belle but when she was undercover as a dance hall spy, she was confident and self-assured, and it was a pleasure to see a female role in a Western with such depth. Also, her singing was much better than that of Michelle Monet in Journey from San Juan. The saloon in which she performed had a gaming table with one of those cages containing spinning dice, which is seen in Exit from Wickenburg and other episodes.

Another ASJ connection was a scene with a woman holding a rifle on Errol Flynn, who said he never argues with a woman with a gun. Just like Leslie O'Hara in The Root of it All! There was also a very exciting chase scene in the desert in the second half of Virginia City, with great stunt riding--I thought it was a pretty good depiction of what being chased by a posse, under gun fire, would be like.

The make-up for the film was done by Perc Westmore, the brother of Bud Westmore, who did the make-up for the Pilot. The DVD commentary, by film historian Frank Thompson, was illuminating. It was only by listening to him that I learned that the Alan Hale in Virginia City was not the same Alan Hale who appeared in ASJ. I actually paused the movie to go online to read a biography of Hale to confirm that they were different actors when I heard that.

This is not a movie with strong connections to ASJ but it's almost worth watching just to see Errol Flynn, Randolph Scott, and Humphrey Bogart working together. On the other hand, if you like seeing strong female characters in movies, definitely watch Virginia City. Otherwise, there are many other, better Westerns available.