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Film / Silver Lode

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Silver Lode is a 1954 Western film directed by Allan Dwan, starring John Payne, Dan Duryea, Lizabeth Scott, and Dolores Moran.

On the Fourth of July, the wedding day of Dan Ballard (Payne) and Rose Evans (Scott), four armed men ride into town. Their leader (Duryea) tells the townspeople that he's a US Marshal with a warrant for Ballard's arrest. The charge is murder and theft. The townspeople react with disbelief and distrust at these strangers riding into town with accusations, as Ballard is a well-respected member of the community. But then again, he did arrive in town only two years ago, and he had a large amount of money when he did...

The plot bears more than a passing resemblance to the much more famous Western High Noon, which was released two years earlier in 1952. Both films deal with a man in a small town losing the support of the townspeople, and both films play out in (roughly) Real Time. High Noon has been widely interpreted as an allegory for McCarthyism; the makers of Silver Lode apparently decided that High Noon was too subtle and named the main antagonist McCarty.

Provides examples of:

  • An Aesop: Mob justice is terrible, and so is Senator Joseph McCarthy.
  • As the Good Book Says...: McCarty quotes "an eye for an eye" to Reverend Field, who counters that Turn the Other Cheek is also in The Bible.
  • Big Bad: Fred McCarty, the leader of the group of men riding into Silver Lode looking for Dan Ballard, is the main antagonist and directly or indirectly responsible for all the bad things that happen in the movie.
  • Blackmail: Saloon girl Dolly threatens to tell telegraph operator Paul Herbert's wife some juicy details about the two of them if he doesn't send some wires that could exonerate Ballard. When he protests that it isn't true, Dolly points out that while that is correct, nobody would believe him if she made those claims in the first place.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Ballard shoots a gun out of Mitch Evans' hand, which puts a strain on their relationship as future brothers-in-law.
  • Cassandra Truth: Ballard maintains his innocence, but the townspeople gradually turn against him and start believing McCarty's account of the events instead.
  • Clear My Name: Ballard spends the entire movie trying to prove that he's innocent of the crimes McCarty is accusing him of.
  • Close-Knit Community: Silver Lode starts out like this; the townspeople immediately side with Ballard when McCarty comes with accusations, and quite a few of them grab their guns to defend him from the outsiders. Unfortunately, it doesn't take much for them to turn on him, which is facilitated by Ballard being a relative outsider who has only lived there for two years.
  • Closet Shuffle: Played With. Ballard hides not in Dolly's closet, but in the roof space above the closet, in order to hide from McCarty. The closet is the first place McCarty looks.
  • Cut Phone Lines: Ballard asks telegraph operator Paul Herbert to send wires to California to confirm or contradict McCarty's accusations, but the lines are down. It is later revealed that McCarty's men cut the telegraph lines.
  • Exact Words: Ballard calls McCarty a liar when accused of shooting the latter's brother in the back. He later clarifies to Rose that he really did kill McCarty's brother, but he didn't shoot him in the back.
  • Extremely Short Time Span: The entire film takes place over the course of a single day, in near-enough real time.
  • Forged Message: Rose and Dolly pressure telegraph operator Paul Herbert into writing a fake telegram response declaring Ballard's innocence and McCarty's guilt, deeming that they don't have time to wait for a genuine reply.
  • Frame-Up: McCarty frames Ballard for murder and theft by forging a warrant, and later frames him for additional murders by making it look like Ballard killed people McCarty himself killed.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Inverted in the sense that an innocent party is exonerated by dishonest means. Rose and Dolly use a fake telegram from Discovery, California to "prove" Ballard's innocence and McCarty's guilt. A genuine telegram which indeed confirms this is later received.
  • Good Shepherd: Reverend Field. He makes several attempts at mediating and de-escalating the situation, though he tends to be ignored, and grants Ballard refuge in the church when the townspeople are looking to kill him.
  • Guns Akimbo: Ballard briefly uses this for holding a large number of people at gunpoint at close range at the same time. He tucks one of them away when he makes a run for it, only using one gun at a time while firing.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Ballard gradually transforms into this over the course of the movie. The townspeople initially side with Ballard as they know and trust him, being skeptical or outright distrustful of McCarty and his accusations. As further events and details seemingly corroborate McCarty's account however, they turn on Ballard. By the end, only his ex Dolly and his fiancée Rose remain on his side.
  • He's Dead, Jim: Johnson is lying motionless on the ground after being shot. Ballard says to ask Johnson who shot him, to which he is told "This man is dead."
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: McCarty dies when a bullet he fires at Ballard ricochets off the church bell and strikes him in the heart instead.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Dolly, the local saloon girl and an old flame of Ballard's, ends up the only person besides his wife-to-be who doesn't turn against him.
  • Impersonating an Officer: McCarty isn't a Marshal, and consequently his companions aren't deputies, either.
  • Implied Death Threat: Says McCarty to Johnson: "Johnson, you worry me. The way Williams used to worry me." We later find out that McCarty killed Williams, but the implication was pretty clear right away.
  • In the Back: McCarty accuses Ballard of shooting his brother in the back and stealing his money. Ballard points out in private that McCarty knows full well that Ballard won that money in a game of cards and that McCarty's brother drew first.
  • It Gets Easier: Ballard references this concept early on when Mitch suggests using violence against McCarty.
    "You kill one man, it's not so hard to kill a second one. Third one's easy."
  • Just in Time: McCarty has Ballard cornered, with all the townspeople standing by... and then Rose shows up with a (forged) telegram exonerating Ballard and implicating McCarty, turning the townspeople against McCarty.
  • Killing in Self-Defense: Two of McCarty's men follow Ballard and try to kill him when he tries to flee, and they end up shot dead in return.
  • Looking Busy: Ballard avoids recognition by carrying a barrel and using it to obscure his face. Nobody disturbs him.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Ballard (and the townspeople who support him) fears that he'll be killed in an "escape attempt" if he follows McCarty to Discovery, California (where the warrant for his arrest was issued).
  • Mistaken for Murderer: McCarty has shot Johnson and Sheriff Wooley, while only getting grazed himself. Ballard picks up Johnson's and McCarty's guns, at which point the townspeople arrive and naturally conclude that Ballard shot all three of them. As both Johnson and Sheriff Wooley were fatally wounded, they cannot set the record straight.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: McCarty tells Ballard that he wants all Ballard's assets, or he'll kill him. Ballard suspects he'll kill him regardless.
  • The Oner: An uninterrupted shot lasting nearly a full minute following Ballard through the town on his way to the telegraph office as he does his best to avoid detection by the townspeople.
  • The Place: The title is the name of the town.
  • Posse: Twice.
    • Sheriff Wooley swears in a volunteer posse, ostensibly to make sure that Ballard doesn't escape during the ride to Discovery, California, though actually to keep an eye on McCarty to make sure that doesn't try anything.
    • McCarty eventually deputizes every man in town to search for Ballard house-by-house.
  • Real Time: Near-enough. The entire eighty-minute movie plays out during a single day, with no appreciable change in the time of day evident from the lighting or other factors.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: All the local authority figures—Sheriff Wooley, Judge Cranston, and Reverend Field—are helpful and willing to listen to reason. It's the townspeople and McCarty and his men who cause trouble for Ballard.
  • Right Under Their Noses: Ballard manages to sneak past everyone looking for him in the middle of the town simply by carrying a barrel over his shoulder such that his face is obscured.
  • Seeking Sanctuary: After being wounded in the shoulder and depleting his ammunition, Ballard heads for the church, where Reverend Field opens the door and lets him in without a word. The townspeople, led by McCarty, do not respect the sanctuary and enter the church against Reverend Field's objections.
  • Shaming the Mob: Rose makes several attempts to shame the townspeople for turning on Ballard, but it doesn't work until Ballard himself chews them out after the truth has been revealed.
    "You're sorry? A moment ago, you wanted to kill me. You forced me to kill to defend myself, to save my own life. You wouldn't believe me, you wouldn't believe what I said. A man's life can hang in the balance, on a piece of paper. And you're sorry!"
  • Torches and Pitchforks: The townspeople gradually descend into a mob looking to kill Ballard as suspicion against him mounts.
  • Trail of Blood: When Ballard is taking refuge in the church, his pursuers notice a trail of blood leading up to the bell tower where he's hiding.
  • U.S. Marshal: McCarty claims to be one of these, and has the papers to back it up. He's lying, and the papers are forged.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: McCarty gradually turns into this over the course of the movie. The townspeople initially side with Ballard as they know and trust him, being skeptical or outright distrustful of McCarty and his accusations. As further events and details seemingly corroborate McCarty's account however, they turn on Ballard. By the end, McCarty is leading an angry mob intent on killing Ballard.
  • Wedding Smashers: The film begins with Dan Ballard and Rose Evans' wedding being interrupted by McCarty and his men coming to arrest Ballard.
  • Widowed at the Wedding: McCarty and his men arrive on Ballard's wedding day, prepared to take him dead or alive.
  • Working with the Ex: Short on options, Ballard seeks the help of the only person besides his fiancée Rose who stands by him: his ex Dolly. Matters are complicated by the fact that she still has feelings for him, whereas he doesn't have feelings for her—this all takes place on the day of his wedding to another woman, and Dolly is jealous.
  • You Killed My Father: Ballard killed McCarty's brother during a poker game two years previously. Naturally, Ballard's and McCarty's accounts of how it all went down differ considerably.