It was Saturday night and it was snowing as a lake effect blizzard was blowing outside my Mom's cozy condo in Akron, Ohio. My brother Bryan was in town from the Big Apple, and we were sipping drinks and looking for something on TV as going out didn't seem a good idea. I noticed that Turner Classic Movies was doing a night of Errol Flynn pictures. Dodge City started next. You see, Errol Flynn is my favorite Nazi, and has been ever since I first saw him swashbuckle is way through The Adventures of Robin Hood and Captain Blood. I figured it had Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. 1939. How bad could it be?
Turns out the answer was Pretty darned bad! Errol Flynn and Alan Hale (that's The Skipper's Dad, y'all) are cowboys working the west soon after the Civil War. They helped catch the buffalo needed to feed the crews building the Transcontinental Railroad and guide wagon trains west. They're men's men, who prefer the company of their horse and the freedom of open skies to mere women. Olivia de Havilland plays a beautiful woman travelling west with her drunk and disorderly brother. They're heading for Dodge City, which is run by criminals. Will Errol Flynn clean up Dodge? Will he bag Olivia? Of course he will, but the plot will meander like a swamp for a long time getting there. Ex-Union soldiers are bad guys and the ex-Confederates are good. Apparently the good guys fought for slavery. Olivia's brother is a jackass just so he can get killed and make it tough for her and Errol to get together. It has a message or six, like beer, gambling, and loose women are bad. They even send Alan Hale to a temperance meeting. Unfortuantely, it passes as an adventure and suspense is zero. Errol cleans up the city almost without a fight, and the battle with the ineffectual villains lasts just long enough for Errol to kiss Olivia and declare his love for her. Ann Sheridan shows up for no other reason than to sing a couple songs and show off her fabulous legs. Olivia is gorgeous, and independent until time comes for her to become a hostage, which happens because she wants to help the men. Might be a lesson in that too. Alan Hale provides comic relief. Many showgirls and one good fight scene sidetrack the action.
There's a reason this film isn't seen often, and that's because it's a mess. There is little or no attempt at real drama. In fact, one wonders if the real problem is that nobody could decide if they wanted to make a western or a romance and ended up making neither. One suspects studio interference because Director Michael Curtiz made Casablanca three years later, proving he was capable of real drama. Of course the script might have been bad too, as writer Robert Bruckner was not the second coming of George S. Kaufman. The actors pretty much play themselves.
With a sword, Errol rocks. But with a six-gun? Give me Jimmy Stewart any day. One star, and that only because I dream of Olivia.