Hello, everybody. Your classic movie guys back again with a special treat, another in our six-part series devoted to Allan Dwan.
As critic-columnist Dave Kehr of The New York Times noted in May, it’s looking to be a good year for the pioneer American filmmaker, who began directing in 1911, and worked without a break for half a century.
His extraordinary career is the subject of an exhaustively researched recent biography by Fredric Lombardi. The book — “Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios” — is published by McFarland. For more information, click on the title.
Lombardi’s book was the basis of a full-fledged retrospective on Dwan’s work that was staged at New York’s Museum of Modern Art this summer.
Joe particularly likes three farces which Dwan directed for Edward Small in the mid-forties. Up in Mabel’s Room, Getting Gertie’s Garter, and Brewster’s Millions. All were released by United Artists.
But by the early fifties Dwan had changed his genre of films, yet again.
“When Dwan joined RKO Pictures in 1954, the company was reeling from five years of mismanagement from owner Howard Hughes. All of the films RKO was releasing were now coming from independent producers.
Among these producers was Benedict Bogeaus. Knowing of Bogeaus’ erratic tendencies, RKO president, and Dwan friend, James Grainger assigned Dwan to work with Bogeaus to keep things under control.
Despite initial tensions, the two men wound up making ten films together. As Dwan recalled, “I went in as a policeman and ended up friendly with him.”
Four of their collaborations are arguably among the best movies Dwan made during the sound era though they were largely ignored by critics of the time.
The four films share common themes and plot elements that evolve over the series.
Today we’ll the discuss the first two, Silver Lode (1954) and Tennessee’s Partner (1955). Both are Westerns and it could be said that Tennessee’s Partner looks like a sequel to Silver Lode.
The plot of the first film concerns an upstanding citizen (John Payne) who is accused of murder and stealing by a man (Dan Duryea) entering the town claiming to be a U.S. marshal. Payne says that his accuser is an imposter, who is actually a criminal.
The townspeople initially defend Payne but over the course of the film Duryea manages to turn everyone against him. Soon Payne is being hunted down in the streets to be shot on sight. Payne’s only support comes from two women (Lizabeth Scott and Dolores Moran).
Given that the marshal’s name is “McCarty” and his accusations prove to be baseless, Silver Lode has in subsequent years been seen as an allegory of the McCarthy anti-Communist witch hunts of the 1950s.
In fact, the scriptwriter Karen De Wolf had a radical past and Silver Lode would be her last film credit.
Dwan told a French interviewer that he preferred to see the film as a satire of a hypocritical small town rather than as a political work. Silver Lode can also be seen as a precursor to the fifties paranoid classics The Phenix City Story and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.
Payne’s character in Silver Lode becomes embittered at the fickleness of the townspeople.
In the next film, Tennessee’s Partner, Payne plays the gambler Tennessee who owns a gambling establishment, and is hated by the community. The now cynical Tennessee has decided that it is “good for business” to have the threat of people taking potshots at him.
Tennessee’s life is saved by a stranger known only as “Cowpoke” (Ronald Reagan, pictured above with Payne) who is as idealistic as Tennessee is cynical. The two men become close friends as Reagan gives what is one of his best screen performances.
Through the friendship of Tennessee and Cowpoke the story becomes a fable with both a tragic and happy ending. A haunting and beautifully composed shot by Dwan provides the transition between these final two scenes.
Tomorrow we’ll look at his next two films with Bogeaus.”