28 June 2011 | JamesHitchcock
Fast-paced, entertaining and enjoyable
I watched this film when it was recently shown on British television, largely because it was an early work by Don Siegel, at the time an up-and-coming young director, but later to become one of Hollywood's most distinguished directors, responsible for films as good as "Dirty Harry" and "The Shootist". It is a Western of the traditional heroes-and-villains variety. The villains are a gang of claim jumpers whose victims are the local miners. Their method of working is a simple one. They pick on a lone miner, force him to sign over his claim under threat of death, and then kill him anyway so he cannot inform on them. (The film does not point out the obvious hole in the scheme, namely that the claim jumpers will not be able to enforce their rights to the claims they take over in this way without revealing their identities).
The main heroes are the local Marshal and the Silver Kid, a young gambler and gunfighter whose father was one of the claim jumpers' victims and who joins forces with the Marshal to seek his revenge. There are two complicating factors. One is that the Marshal has fallen in love with a young woman named Opal Lacey who is secretly in league with the killers. The other is that the Marshal has been shot in the shoulder, an injury which affects his ability to handle a gun.
The best-known actor in the film is Audie Murphy. He made a few good films, most notably "The Red Badge of Courage", but a lot of his output consisted of routine Westerns. Murphy always seemed to be struggling against two disadvantages. The first was the fact that because he had become well-known to the American public for something other than his acting- he was a much-decorated war hero- he was unable to ditch his odd, feminine-sounding Christian name in favour of something more rugged. The second was his smooth, youthful looks which meant that he was frequently typecast as a callow young greenhorn even when he was in his thirties.
Here, however, Murphy is pretty good as the Kid, a brash and undisciplined but basically decent young man who gradually grows in courage and stature. I would agree with the reviewer who pointed out that the relationship between the Kid and Steve McNally's older, wiser Marshal is similar to that between John Wayne and Ricky Nelson in "Rio Bravo". (I've never seen "El Dorado", the other film he mentions).
"Duel at Silver Creek" is a fairly standard Western. As others have pointed out, its plot- the one about the heroic lawman tackling a gang of bandits- is familiar enough to be called a cliché, although that in itself does not mean that the film itself will be a bad one. After all, some very good Westerns, and at least two great ones ("High Noon" and "Gunfight at the OK Corral") have been based around it. "Duel
.." is in nothing like the same class as those two films, but Siegel handles the action well, showing signs of the great director he was to become. It may be a B-movie, but it is a fast-paced, entertaining and enjoyable one. 6/10