On the theory, perhaps, that one good western deserves another, Warner Bros follows up Dodge City, starring Errol Flynn, with another saga of the land of the blazing sunsets entitled Virginia City. As a shoot ’em up, the picture is first class; as a bit of cinematic history telling, it is far short of the possibilities indicated by the title and cast.
It’s about the cache of $5 million in gold bullion which Confederate sympathizers are reported to have offered to the cause of the Southern states during the Civil War. The catch, of course, is how to get the gold out of Nevada and through Union scouting lines.
Flynn is first shown as a Union captive in Libby prison, from which he and companions escape, later to be assigned to travel across the plains and thwart the conspiracy by which the Confederacy hoped to come in possession of all that gold from the Nevada hills. Miriam Hopkins is a singer in a Virginia City saloon and travels west on the stage with Flynn. She is a rebel spy, fresh from a meeting with Jeff Davis. There’s the romance.
En route, the stage is held up by John Murrell, outlaw, who is really Humphrey Bogart behind a slick-waxed mustache. There’s the chase.
And in Virginia City is Randolph Scott, secretly planning the removal of the gold, which is to be taken south in a wagon train. Scott also is much in love with Hopkins, who leans heavily towards Flynn. She betrays Flynn into a trap, thus placing patriotism ahead of love. There’s the drama.
Michael Curtiz, the director, has taken all this and steamed it up with some noisy trigger work, charging cavalry, dance-hall intimacies and the burning sands of the desert to concoct a bustling western, which is replete with action, although short on credulity.