May 2, 2018 | by Jessika Loucks
Railroads and Cowboys!!!
Dodge City was Errol Flynn’s debut Western role, and due to his bankable star power, the movie became one of the highest grossing films of 1939. It brought in a whopping $3,676,879 (which would be $64,745,637 in 2018)! Based on a story by Robert Buckner, Dodge City is an action-packed Western.
As the fifth film to feature Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland as leads, Flynn was worried audiences wouldn’t accept him as a Western hero. He was afraid people couldn’t look past his English accent and previous swash-buckling roles, but the gamble paid off. With the film’s huge success, Flynn went on to make several more Western action flicks.
Adding to the splendor of the movie itself, a special sixteen-car train was chartered to Dodge City, Kansas for the film’s premiere! Special guest Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. and over 70,000 visitors celebrated the joyful event, which the studio captured in Technicolor. With amazing leads and a bar room brawl scene that was supposedly the largest fight scene ever filmed, how could this film be bad?
“Oh, I don’t know. This place is getting too big and calm and peaceful-like.”- Tex Baird
We begin with an exciting score, drawing us in right away. The scene is set with a beautiful train speeding down the track. This is the era when the Civil War has ended, and the West is being conquered. Suddenly we are thrown into a race, pitting horse against steam.
The train wins and we are taken to an open range full of buffalo. It’s here that we meet Wade Hatton (Flynn), an Irish cowboy who is helping Colonel Dodge bring the railroad to Dodge City (also known as the longhorn cattle center of the world). On his way into town to meet the train, Hatton and his companions Rusty (Alan Hale) and Tex (Guinn Williams) run into Jeff Surrett – a troublemaker who is illegally killing buffalo and selling their hides. Hatton brings Surrett to justice and this marks the beginning of the rift between these two cowboys.
Back in town, the train makes its first stop in Dodge City. We see that the train is a lifeline, giving the townsfolk a way to travel to and from other cities. Colonel Dodge dreams that Dodge City, supported by the train route, will flourish into a great metropolis with a thriving community. A few years pass and sadly Dodge City has become a place packed with settlers, thieves and gunmen who only care about money and killing. Even worse than the outlaws, Jeff Surrett and his gang now control life in the fledgling city. Any sheriff brought into town is swiftly driven out by Surrett and his gang. Hatton (along with Rusty and Tex) is now responsible for safely leading a group of settlers to wild Dodge City.
It’s here that we meet Abbie Irving (Olivia De Hailland) who is traveling with her brother, a drunk who likes to cause problems and bring attention to himself. While his actions bring unwanted danger to the traveling group, Hatton is smitten with Abbie and the two engage in some banter. After Abbie’s brother shoots at Hatton, he shoots back out of self-defense, causing a stampede that ultimately kills the brother. Abbie now wants nothing to do with Hatton and asks that he stays away from her.
When they get safely into town Abbie is united with her uncle who asks Hatton to be the new sheriff. Hatton declines saying he is not cut out for that kind of job. However, the town only gets worse, with Surrett’s violent reach growing stronger every day. Hatton continues to try and make things right with Abbie, who is now the school teacher, but has no luck as she ignores any attention from him.
When a young boy gets caught in the middle of a gun fight, resulting in a team of scared horses dragging him to his death, Hatton changes his mind about becoming sheriff. Will Hatton be able to bring law and order to a town so steeped in violence and greed? Will Abbie forgive him? And will Surrett be brought to justice and his position of power taken away?
“I tell you, Ellen, we’re the public disgrace of America.”-Dr. Irving
Content for Concern
This is definitely not a film for smaller children as some very real-life situations are portrayed vividly. While a young boy is killed by being dragged by a horse, this is the pivotal event in the film that pushes the main character into becoming the town’s sheriff. Drinking, gambling, murdering, cheating and all things reckless are seen throughout the film, but repercussion of actions are always seen and are not necessarily glorified. As most films in this era there is no sex or language of any kind.
“About ten days for this customer, Tex. Five to cool off and five to think it over.”- Wade Hatton
So, is this Western worth your time? I say if you like comedy, adventure, mystery and cowboys this is a film for you. As always, Flynn and De Havilland do not disappoint and the banter between them is hilarious. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll cheer for this rip roarin’ Western adventure!