Directed By: Allan Dwan
Starring: John Payne, Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea
Tag line: "WHEN THEY GRIP THEIR GUNS... YOU'LL GRIP YOUR SEAT!"
Trivia: The character played by Dan Duryea is a veiled reference to U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy
Directed by Allen Dwan in 1954, Silver Lode is a western that has all but slipped into obscurity. I myself only learned about it after watching the remarkable British Film Institute documentary, A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies. In it, Scorsese lauds Dwan for his stylish approach to directing this low-budget film, where he took what was essentially a B-movie and transformed it into something much more substantial.
Dan Ballard (John Payne), a well-respected citizen of the town of Silver Lode, was just about to marry his fiancé, Rose Evans (Lizabeth Scott), when the wedding was interrupted by a U.S. Marshal bearing a warrant for his arrest. The Marshal, a shifty character named Ned McCarty (Dan Duryea), personally accused Ballard of murder and the theft of $20,000. Ballard denies the charges, and is convinced McCarty, whom he's had previous run-ins with, isn't a U.S Marshall at all. But with McCarty going around town telling more and more people about Ballard’s so-called shady ‘history’, Dan Ballard finds he’s not only going up against McCarty, but the good citizens of Silver Lode as well.
Along with being a well-crafted western, Silver Lode is also a thinly-veiled take on the McCarthy blacklist era of the 1950s, when U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, who preached of a “Communist infiltration” in the American media, ruined the careers of dozens of entertainers without any real proof to back it up. When McCarty (a not-so-subtle play on names) arrives in town and publicly charges Ballard with theft and murder, the townsfolk of Silver Lode begin to wonder if the man they’ve come to admire is, in fact, guilty of these crimes. After all, Dan Ballard only rode into Silver Lode two short years ago; who knows what he did before that time? By way of coincidence and gossip, McCarty stirs the entire town into a frenzy, and, soon enough, has them believing Ballard is a cold-blooded killer. In the span of a few short hours, Dan Ballard has become an outsider in the community he once called home, a direct correlation to those in Hollywood who, on account of Joe McCarthy, were shunned by former friends and colleagues for their ‘questionable‘ political affiliations.
With a career that spanned well over 300 feature-length and short films, and dated all the way back to the 1910s, it’s a safe assumption that director Allan Dwan, by the time he made Silver Lode, had honed his skills, and was an extremely gifted filmmaker who could work magic with the limited resources at his disposal. In the case of Silver Lode, however, it’s also possible Dwan realized he had an important story to tell. Perhaps...just perhaps...Silver Lode was a film the long-time director felt needed to be made, and he decided to give it everything he had in order to drive its point home.
Whatever the case, Silver Lode is an extraordinary movie, one that deserves to find a new audience among modern cinephiles.