Dodge City (1939): Curtiz’s Western, Starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland

Michael Curtiz directed Dodge City, a commercially popular, lavishly shot western, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland.

Dodge City
Dodge City 1939 Poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Based on a story by Robert Buckner, the film concerns a Texas cattle agent who witnesses the lawlessness of Dodge City, Kansas and takes the job of sheriff to clean it up.

The tale begins with Colonel Dodge (Henry O’Neill) arrival on the first train, opening the new railroad line that links Dodge City with other egions.

A few years later, Dodge City has turned into the “longhorn cattle center of the world and wide-open Babylon of the American frontier, packed with settlers, thieves and gunmen—the town that knew no ethics but cash and killing.”

Jeff Surrett (Bruce Cabot) and his gang kill, steal, cheat and control Dodge City without ever being brought to justice. Any new sheriff sworn into office is quickly driven out of town by Surrett and his cronies.

Colonel Dodge’s friend Wade Hatton (Errol Flynn), a lone Irish cowboy is on his way to town leading settlers from the East coast. At Hatton’s side are his old companions Rusty (Alan Hale) and Tex (Guinn “Big Boy” Williams).

Among the settlers are beautiful Abbie Irving (Olivia de Havilland) and her irresponsible brother Lee (William Lundigan), a drunkard who causes a stampede and is shot by Hatton in self-defense.

Asked by anxious citizens, including Abbie’s uncle, Dr. Irving (Henry Travers), to be the new sheriff, Hatton declines, saying he is not cut out for the job.
Hatton changes his mind when, during a school outing, a young boy, Harry Cole is killed by Surrett and his men.

At first, the new sheriff and his deputies, Rusty and Tex among them, have hard time fighting the criminals.  In the end, however, Hatton succeeds in catching the baddies, winning Abbie’s heart, and turning Dodge City into a civilized town.  When he is asked to clean up Virginia City, Nevada, another dangerous railroad town, Hatton and loving wife head out there.

Shot in Technicolor, Dodge City was one of the year’s top-grossing films, both domestically and internationally, reaffirming Flynn’s stardom at Warners.

This was the fifth of the eight movies that de Havilland and Flynn appeared in together, again showing strong rapport between them.

Errol Flynn as Wade Hatton
Olivia de Havilland as Abbie Irving
Ann Sheridan as Ruby Gilman
Bruce Cabot as Jeff Surrett
Frank McHugh as Joe Clemens
Alan Hale as Rusty
John Litel as Matt Cole
Henry Travers as Dr. Irving
Henry O’Neill as Colonel Grenville M. Dodge
Victor Jory as Yancy
William Lundigan as Lee Irving
Ward Bond as Bud Taylor

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Produced by Hal B. Wallis

Screenplay by Robert Buckner

Music by Max Steiner; Adolph Deutsch (uncredited)
Cinematography: Sol Polito

Edited by George Amy