December 26, 2010
Audie Murphy is “The Silver Kid!” As with Charles Starrett’s moniker, there is no explanation of what the name means or how Audie got it.
My self-imposed rules for this site dictate that I only review B-Westerns that were made before or during the years that Charles Starrett was gracing the silver screen. “Duel at Silver Creek” just squeaks in there. It was shot in 1952, the year that Starrett retired. Also, though it’s considered a B-western, it features a much bigger budget than Starrett’s vehicles or those of his contemporaries; there are lots of locations, lots of people, lots of horses, and no recycled footage.
There’s plenty of action right up front in this film, which is not surprising considering it is directed by Don Siegel who went on to make such action classics as “Dirty Harry” and “Charley Varrick” and who is one of two people to whom Clint Eastwood dedicated his ultimate Western “Unforgiven” (the other was Sergio Leone.) Audie Murphy and his dad are working a mine. A gang of claim jumpers kill his dad. There’s an ambush, a shoot-out and a running gun battle on horseback — all in the first 8 minutes. Then Murphy disappears for nearly 20 minutes.
In the meantime, we catch up with Lightning, a Marshall played by Steve McNally, an actor who played a dynamite bad guy in “Winchester 73”.
Here, he’s a hero. A lot happens to Lightning during Murphy’s absence from the film. He leads a posse, gets wounded, heals up at a fort, falls in love, loses a deputy and the physical ability to pull the trigger on his gun.
Ultimately, Lightning and the Silver Kid join forces to find the killers and expose the leader of the gang.
Audie is cool. He’s got a great drawl and a cool ambling walk. There is a running bit in the film about how young he looks. “When you gonna start shaving, Kid”, taunts Lee Marvin. When Murphy was young, of course, he was a real-life hero and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.
Murphy was 28 when he made this, his ninth film. That same year, Charles Starrett was 49 and retiring. We’ll never know if Murphy would have made the same decision when he reached Starrett’s age. He died in 1971 at the age of 46.