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January 03, 2006

The Duel at Silver Creek

Don Siegel - 1952
Universal Region 1 DVD

Darn that Ang Lee! Brokeback Mountain will probably do more damage to westerns than anything Leslie Fiedler ever wrote. Still, there are bits and pieces that may or may not have been intentional, but they are certainly suspect.

While Deborah Allison has not included anything on Duel in her analysis of Siegel in Senses of Cinema, the film is certainly consistent as a Siegel film. Even more so than Invasion of the Body Snatchers, no one can be trusted. This distrust begins by having most of the characters known by nicknames and aliases which to a certain degree can be interpreted as a form of disguise. Illegal acts are committed in the name of upholding the law. Alliances are formed and broken based on misreadings or misrepresentations. Even if the audience knows that Audie Murphy is the good guy because he is after all Audie Murphy, he still has to prove himself to Marshal Tyrone (Stephen McNally), better known as Lightnin'. Murphy and McNally are after a gang of claim jumpers who have murdered miners after forcing them to sign over their claims. As the villains, Faith Domergue and Gerald Mohr are the kind of siblings who possibly gave inspiration to Dirk Bogarde and Sarah Miles.

Not to mistake this film for an undiscovered classic, but there Duel has its moments crammed into the brief seventy-six minute running time. Lee Marvin is initially unrecognizable with dark hair and mustache, taking insult at being called "Sheep Dip" by Murphy. Stephen McNally demonstrates how he upholds law and order by calling a hired gun "Rat Face" before tossing him into a large window. One has to wonder if someone is joking with the audience by having an old gunslinger named "Pop" Muzik.

Now it should be noted that through most of this movie, Audie Murphy is wearing an unusually fashionable leather jacket. Mohr makes a comment to Domergue about Murphy being "very attractive". Murphy and McNally also have confrontations with Eugene Iglesias as Johnny Sombrero, a would-be bad-ass in gaudy clothing and a very big hat. The character and the clothing virually anticipate a future screen cliche. Some may argue that McNally's change of gun hand was an innocent plot point, but one could also argue that this may be an intentional signifier of another kind of switch. The film closes with Murphy smooching tomboy Susan Cabot in the outlaws' hideout. When McNally peaks in to say that he and his posse are "pulling out", I was thankful that whatever they were doing was safely off-screen.

Posted by peter at January 3, 2006 02:04 PM