Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Silver Lode (1954)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Silver Lode (1954)

In director Allan Dwan's and RKO's taut and suspenseful, Technicolored psychological low-budget western - a 'guilt-by-suspicion' allegorical film masking as a succinct and timely criticism of the Cold War's McCarthy era (and very close in theme and plot to High Noon (1952)):

  • the western's setting was during a July 4th celebration in the frontier town of Silver Lode in Nevada; the film's action occurred over the course of a day - mostly in 'real-time'
  • ominously, four men on horseback arrived from the town of Discovery, California; the foursome group of law officials was led by accusatory and vengeful 'Marshal' Fred McCarty (Dan Duryea) (the name was a clear reference to Sen. Joseph McCarthy); his three deputies were Johnson (Harry Carey Jr.), Kirk (Alan Hale Jr.) and Wicker (Stuart Whitman); they briefly asked for information from glamorous Taggert's Saloon Dancer-Singer Dolly (Dolores Moran) in a bright purple dress

(l to r): Kirk and McCarty

(l to r): Wicker and Johnson
  • in front of the church with Sheriff Wooley (Emile Meyer), US Marshal McCarty explained he was there with an arrest warrant for respected, wealthy rancher/citizen and town sheriff Dan Ballard (John Payne) (a reformed, ex-gunslinger from two years earlier) who was in the middle of preparations for a marriage ceremony in the church to his pretty fiancee Rose Evans (Lizabeth Scott), the daughter of wealthy Zachary Evans (Morris Ankrum)
Interruption of Dan Ballard's (John Payne) Wedding to Rose Evans (Lizabeth Scott)
  • the four burst in and stopped the proceedings; the zealous McCarty claimed they were on a manhunt with a warrant to arrest Ballard for the crimes of murder and theft committed two years earlier - the robbery of $20,000 from McCarty's brother by Ballard who cheated during a poker game, and then the brother was murdered (with a bullet in the back); Ballard who knew of McCarty and his brother (both rustlers and outlaws from the past) called him a liar and the charges false; McCarty demanded that Ballard be extradited and accompany them to California where the murder occurred (but as it was later noted, "an accident on the trail might defeat justice")
  • the wrongly-accused Ballard decided to hold off on the wedding; McCarty asserted that he was seeking the Old Testament style of justice for Ballard - without due process: ("An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth"); to appear reasonable, peaceful, and law-abiding, Ballard refused the offer of a gun from his brother-in-law to-be Michael "Mitch" Evans (John Hudson), telling him: "When you kill one man, it's not so hard to kill the second. The third one's easy"
  • members of the wedding party proceeded back through town, as some of the fickle townsfolk commented on Ballard's guilt or innocence - could they be loyal to him or not?; a posse was formed by the Sheriff to safety escort the group back to California, but McCarty seemed uninterested; in the stable as his horse was prepared, Ballard confessed to Rose that the brother's murder was in self-defense: "I did kill his brother" - but not in the back; circumstantially, the local banker admitted that Ballard had $20,000 when he arrived in town two years earlier
  • in front of the town's Judge Cranston (Robert Warwick), McCarty's extradition request was upheld; however, the judge allowed Ballard two hours to delay (or stall) the proceedings to track down evidence to clear his name and prove his innocence
  • in the telegraph office, the telegrapher Paul Herbert (Frank Sully) was pressured by Ballard to send the same message to two Sheriffs in Discovery, and a third to the US Marshal in San Francisco, to receive verifications to confirm McCarty's identity and warrant; however, the transmissions failed - the lines appeared to be down (Ballard immediately suspected that the wires had been deliberately cut by McCarty); Herbert went to investigate the situation
  • another tactic by Ballard was to see if any of McCarty's 'deputies' could be bribed (or bought) to reveal the truth and turn on McCarty and expose him; Rose's rich father Zach offered $5,000 cash to pay off Johnson who agreed to be bribed by testifying that McCarty's credentials and warrant were forged; in the town's livery stable-barn, Johnson admitted that McCarty had cut the telegraph wires and also possessed forged Marshal paper credentials and then killed the forger named Williams; listening from the upper stable loft, McCarty heard Ballard claim that "Johnson talked," shot Johnson dead, and then blamed Ballard for the murder: "Ballard just shot Johnson!"

In Livery Stable, Ballard Bribing 'Deputy' Johnson with $5,000 to Expose McCarty as a Murderous Fraud

McCarty in Stable Loft Shooting Down Johnson

Johnson Shot and Killed by McCarty
  • McCarty then held Ballard at gunpoint, and bargained for a payoff: ("I want the money!"); he demanded the $20,000 dollars that Ballard had squarely won from his brother during a poker game; Sheriff Wooley, who overheard McCarty's incriminating conversation from the loft, was shot dead but was able to wound McCarty; McCarty blamed both murders (Johnson and the Sheriff) on the guilty-looking Ballard, who was seen holding guns in both hands
  • Ballard vainly argued for his innocence: "Why should I kill the Sheriff? He was my friend. Look, I've lived with you people. I've dealt fairly with you. Isn't my word good for anything?"; the only stalwart townsperson who ended up believing that Ballard was innocent and was being persecuted was his virginal, respectable wife Rose, who argued back: "You're all a pack of cowardly hypocrites. Dan Ballard's never hurt any of you. And some of you owe him a lot of gratitude. Are you going to take McCarty's word against his?", but no one was convinced
  • when pressured to surrender, Ballard was forced to escape and flee on horseback and defend himself, and he killed the other two 'deputies' (Kirk and Wicker) and slightly wounded Rose's brother "Mitch" Evans; he was briefly allowed to hide in the upstairs saloon room of his brazen, jealous ex-mistress Dolly - the only other person in town (other than Rose) to believe him; she promised to be with him after Rose would predictably reject him: "Stay here till it's dark. I'll take good care of ya honey, you'll be OK!"; he refused her offer of escaping from town together, and was determined to stay and defend his reputation
  • when pursued by McCarty and other deputized townsmen during a house-to-house search, the very desperate and wounded Ballard - filmed with a series of masterfully-choreographed tracking shots - was followed as he ran across town from the Evans' home and down Main Street (ironically through 4th of July "Independence Day" decorations); he took cover behind various objects, including the town's cannon and a well before approaching the locked telegraph office; he used Judge Cranston as a shield, then hid himself in a moving stagecoach, dove under a picnic table, then ran along the church's white picket fence before racing inside; there he found sanctuary granted by the town's Reverend Field (Hugh Sanders)
  • meanwhile in the telegraph office, Ballard's bride-to-be Rose and Dolly (who had joined forces) pressured Herbert to forge a phony telegram return-response showing that McCarty's credentials had been falsified; Rose raced with the manufactured telegram to Judge Cranston at the church, who read it outloud to all the townsfolk: ("McCarty not what he represents himself to be. Wanted for murder and cattle rustling. Dan Ballard innocent of charge") - the news exonerated Ballard and proclaimed his innocence
Telegraph Office Scene - Rose and Dolly Ordering Paul Herbert to Forge a Phony Telegram Return-Response
  • simultaneously, there was a climactic confrontational showdown scene high up in the church bell-tower - where the cornered, defenseless, unarmed and wounded Ballard was symbolically hiding on one side of the 'liberty' bell in the belfry, while evil, gun-shooting antagonist McCarty was firing at him from the other side; miraculously Ballard was saved -- literally, when McCarty's own bullet ricocheted off the giant swinging church bell, and he was struck in the heart by his own deflected bullet; the Reverend called it "an act of God"
Deadly Showdown Between McCarty and Ballard in Church's Bell Tower

Ballard Face-to-Face with McCarty

Ballard Wounded, Cornered, and Defenseless

McCarty Hit By His Own Ricocheted Bullet
  • in the concluding sequence - the reprieved and saved Ballard descended from the church bell-tower and angrily scorned the townsfolk who only retroactively apologized: "You're sorry. A moment ago you wanted to kill me, and 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!"
  • in the film's epilogue, Ballard's name and reputation were cleared and it was confirmed that he was innocent all along and had been telling the truth; the receipt of a real telegram from Sheriff Harper in Discovery, CA completely and truly exonerated him: ("Fred McCarty wanted. Murder and Rustling. US Marshal on way to Silver Lode"); Dolly exclaimed "Hallelujah!" and ran from the office with the news - seen in a stationary shot through the Telegraph Office's window as she raced far into the distance down Main Street

4th of July in Silver Lode

Arrival of 3 Deputies Led by Marshal Fred McCarty (Dan Duryea) - to Arrest Ballard

Taggert's Saloon Dancer-Singer Dolly (Dolores Moran)

Ballard to Mitch: "When you kill one man, it's not so hard to kill the second. The third one's easy"

McCarty About Ballard: "He's nothin' but a murderer"

McCarty with Judge Cranston (Robert Warwick) - Extradition Request Upheld

Telegraph Office: Wires Were Discovered to be Cut

The Sheriff Shot and Killed by McCarty

The Murders of Johnson and the Sheriff Were Blamed on Ballard - Seen With a Gun in Each Hand

Ballard Pursued in Town

Dolly's Offer to Ballard to Be With Him After He Would Probably Be Rejected by Rose

Ballard on the Run

Ballard's Race Down Main Street to Church

Ballard's Final Scornful Words for the Unfaithful Townsfolk: "A man's life can hang in the balance on a piece of paper"


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