Silver River (1948): Raoul Walsh’s Western, his Fourth and Last Film with Errol Flynn

Raoul Walsh directed the western Silver River, starring Errol Flynn and Ann Sheridan, based on a Stephen Longstreet’s story (which later became a novel).

Our Grade: C (*1/2 out of *****)

During the Civil War, the soldier Mike McComb (Flynn) disobeys orders in order to prevent the Confederates from stealing the money he is guarding by burning it.

After being humiliated by the townspeople, he and his friend ‘Pistol’ Porter confiscate gambling equipment and set out to Silver City, Nevada to open a saloon. On his way to St. Joseph, Mike meets Georgia Moore, a woman that runs the Silver River mine with her husband Stanley.

McComb wins ownership of the wagons in poker game to Georgia’s anger. While traveling, she is unimpressed by McComb’s playful behavior and abandons him.

In Silver City, McComb builds a successful saloon, hiring John Plato Beck as his lawyer, an alcoholic but good-hearted man. Meanwhile, Georgia is worried when she finds out Stanley has bought back his wagons from McComb in exchange for 6,000 shares in the mine.  It gets worse when Stanley does not have the money to finish his smelter. Mike agrees to finance him, in exchange for a third interest in the mine. McComb plans to open a town bank, in which the townspeople can pay vouchers in lieu of cash.

The bank empire gets a visit from the President of the US, Ulysses S. Grant, but McComb is unable to charm Georgia. McComb plans to extend his empire up to and including Black Rock Range.  Aware of the Shoshone Indians, he assigns Stanley to realize his plans. When Plato makes him feel guilty, McComb warns Georgia about her husband, but they are too late, when gets killed by the Indians.

In a formal dinner party, Plato throws a tantrum while drunk and accuses McComb. The townspeople lose their faith in McComb and withdraw their money from his bank.

Georgia begs McComb to reopen the mines, and when he refuses, she leaves him. Soon after, McComb is forced to file bankruptcy. Meanwhile, Plato runs for the Senate, but he’s killed by his competition Sweeney. McComb convinces the townspeople to avenge Plato’s death. However, when Sweeney is about to be killed by the mob, McComb convinces them to allow Sweeney to stand trial. He promises to make Silver City a better place, and Georgia, now impressed with McComb’s new attitude, joins him.

Raoul Walsh agreed to take on direction, determined to keep the film’s star Errol Flynn on a “short leash.” By that time, Flynn had gained an infamous reputation in Hollywood for his behavior and drinking habits.

After an exciting opening sequence of about 12 minutes, set during the Civil War, the story slows down and becomes rather tedious.

A big budget effort with hundreds of extras and over 75 speaking parts, the movie was a commercial disappointment.

Errol Flynn as Michael J. ‘Mike’ McComb
Ann Sheridan as Georgia Moore
Thomas Mitchell as John Plato Beck
Bruce Bennett as Stanley Moore
Tom D’Andrea as ‘Pistol’ Porter
Barton MacLane as ‘Banjo’ Sweeney
Monte Blue as ‘Buck’ Chevigee
Jonathan Hale as Major Spencer
Al Bridge as Slade
Arthur Space as Major Ross

Directed by Raoul Walsh
Produced by Owen Crump
Written by Harriet Frank, Jr., based on story by Stephen Longstreet
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Sidney Hickox
Edited by Alan Crosland Jr.
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date: May 18, 1948
Running time: 110 minutes


TCM showed the movie on June 30, 2020.