The Duel at Silver Creek (1952)

The Duel at Silver Creek

This was Don Siegel's first foray into the western genre. The script combines two archetypes of western stories: the town under terror type and the revenge western. Both stories have their own protagonist, an undaunted sheriff and a young man seeking the murderers of his father.

The father of a young man, Luke Cromwell (Murphy) is killed by claim jumpers, bandits stealing the claims of small time minors. Luke becomes a gambler and a gunslinger but the local sheriff appoints him as his deputy: he's in need of a quick drawing assistant after he has been hit by a bullet and is no longer able to squeeze the trigger. The two fall out when Luke discovers that the sheriff's sweetheart is in league with the claim jumpers and the older man won't believe him. Luke wants to leave town but is then told that the sheriff is about to face a young man called Johnny Sombrero in a duel ...

Most characters are referred to by funny names like The Silver Kid, Lightning Tyrone or Johnny Sombrero and the story isn't exactly waterproof. The jumpers are openly selling the stolen claims and yet nobody can figure out who they are? But Murphy is perfectly believable as the hot-headed young man who is a lot smarter than the old fox mentoring him. He looks great in his black leather suit, almost as if he changed his Electra Glide for a horse at the Studio door. Faith Domergue is deliciously wicked as the she-devil in disguise; in one scene she even strangles a wounded man so that he can't give away any secrets, a scene that must have shocked viewers in those days. Lee Marvin makes a cameo appearance as one of the frequenters of the local saloon. 

With too much happening in a running time of a mere 77 minutes, the movie feels a little hectic. It's also quite uneven; Siegel was a late bloomer and had not yet reached full artistic maturity when he was offered this movie (at the age of forty), but his talent was undeniable; with his typical no-nonsense approach he makes the best of the mediocre story material and the triangular shootout in the town street - involving Luke, the sheriff and Johnny Sombrero - is a great scene, both Peckinpah and Leone must have studied it.

1952 - Dir: Don Siegel - Cast: Audie Murphy (Luke 'Silver Kid' Cromwell), Faith Domergue (Opal 'Brown Eyes' Lacy), Stephen McNally (Marshall 'Lightning' Tyrone), Susan Cabot (Jane 'Dusty' Fargo), Eugene Iglesias (Johnny Sombrero), Gerald Mohr (Rod Lacy), James Anderson ('Rat Face' Blake), Lee Marvin ('Tinhorn' Burgess)