Dodge City review by Matt FuerstThe western is a genre that has been very much overlooked for the past few decades. Unlike today, the western was once a staple of cinema and received more releases than most other genres such as comedies and romance. Kids used to play cowboys and indians and want to be a Cowboy when they grow up. Now it's much more likely that a youngin' wants to be an FBI agent when they grow up. It's not really for the worse, it's just a different attitude for a different time.
Dodge City is a 1939 western that was filmed in Glorious Technicolor starring Errol Flynn. Errol stars at Wade Hatton, the well rounded, slightly mysterious cowboy. Since the end of the Civil War, Hatton has traveled around the world and back to find himself in his current role, becoming the moden equivalent of a contractor for the US Army. He hunts buffalo for to feed the Army in it's westward movement. In his travels he has watched the evil, dark hat wearing Jeff Surrett kill Buffalo on Indian growns and turns him over to the local Sheriff. Thus the final confrontation is set.
Fast forward a few years, and the final spike is being driven into railroad connecting Dodge City with the East. Our hero Hatton has moved onto his next role, moving heads of steer west. Along with his cattle duties, he helps settlers move west in a big wagon train. On his move west he comes across his future lady friend, Abbie Irving. Once ariving in his desination, Dodge City, he comes across his arch nemesis Surrett, who is now a big mover and shaker in Dodge City, a town rife with outlaws and evil. Surrett proceeds to antagonize Hatton throughout the film and set the tension for the final showdown.
Several subplots are explored in the meantime. Hatton has to have time to fall in love, of course. Post-Civil War tensions are looked at and suprisingly, not in a cookie cutter manner. The "good" Southerners actually beat up on the slave-freein' evil "Northerners". We see the innocent immigrants migrating west, trying to find a new life for themselves, and greeted with violence and a difficult decision - to be run over by aggresive men, or to attempt to stand up for themselves.
There is a lot to like about Dodge City. First thing I'd like to point out is the grand spectacle that it is. For a relativly unknown production from 1939 (I mean if the film stock of Citizen Kane and Gone with the Wind were deteriorating, then I imagine Dodge City wasn't getting much special treatment.) the print that is available is still beautiful and rich in it's colors and tones. Since a lot of the movie takes place in the prarie and vast open spaces a poor print would really stick out like a sore thumb. Additionally, we are treated to a production that is a true Hollywood spectacle. During the caravan west, there are thousands of cattle and hundreds of settlers on the wagon trail, and it truly is a gorgeous site. Very well done and amazingly orchestrated. If a script today called for such a scene we would see a handful of real people and cattle and then thousands upon thousands of CG cattle. Again, one may not be better than the other, but it is an interesting difference to note.
The other element that really knocked my socks off was the excellent cinematography. This movie must have been The Matrix of the day since there are several sequences that left me wondering how they filmed them so well. For instance, in the beginning of the movie the train big-wigs are on the train heading to Dodge City to inaugurate the Dodge City station, and Hatten rides his horse next to the train to talk with the train, going at full steam. We are presented this with a steady-cam-esque shot from aside Hatten, looking into the train. The shot is steady and sure and done without special effects or blue screens. It really is Errol Flynn riding next to a train (going full blast) talking into it with a steady camera shot. Really neat stuff.
Overall, Dodge City is a very enjoyable yarn. If you're against any movies from before 1980, or only want to watch one Errol Flynn movie, then this isn't it. If you want to watch only one western, then this isn't it. But this is an excellent, solid entry into the western genre that explores how the western front was founded. If you run across it, put the clicker down and give it a shot (no, not with your six shooter).
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