A 1940 release, VIRGINIA CITY starred Errol Flynn as a Union spy, Randolph Scott as his nemesis, Miriam Hopkins as the third angle of the love triangle, a Southern sympathizer who worked as a spy, and Humphrey Bogart as an outlaw leader(almost unrecognizable with a pencil thin mustache and a smooth, unlined face). Although I knew he was in the film, I didn’t recognize him at first, not until he spoke. This film was the year before High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon.
As the film opens, Union Officer Kerry Bradford(Flynn) and a couple of his men break out of a Confederate prison and escape. The warden is Vance Irby(Scott). Before he breaks out, Bradford learns of a desperate plan to bring $5,000,000 in gold to pump up the South’s failing war effort. It’s 1864 and things aren’t going well.
Julia Hayne(Hopkins) has brought word to Richmond of Southern sympathizers in Virginia City who’ve pooled their assets to help the South. Irby is an old childhood friend who is placed in charge of spiriting the gold out of Union stronghold Virginia City. Julia, once looking forward to a career as a singer until the war broke out, now works as a dance hall girl who plays up to Union officers from the nearby fort for information.
Irby goes on ahead to begin arrangements and Bradford sets up with Union forces his own plan, knowing that a large amount of gold like that could only come from Virginia City. On the long stage coach ride out west, both Bradford and Julia are aboard, neither aware of who the other really is or their missions. Also aboard is a gun salesman(Bogart), who is really infamous John Morrell, leader of a band of outlaws, who holds up the stage, is jumped by Bradford and his two men, and what follows is a furious gun battle aboard a runaway stage. Lots of action and derring do by Flynn with Bogart jumping off into a river as they cross a bridge.
The film is loaded with all sorts of stunts, gun play, all featuring Flynn, the main star in the film. Randolph Scott was third lead and Bogart had not yet reached leading man status, playing mostly heavies.
The Union army, under Bradford’s direction, was searching every building in Virginia City for the gold. He’d already ran into Irby, confirming his suspicions about the gold. Irby was getting antsy and a chance meeting with Morrell in the doctor’s office, another Southern man, gives him the idea to hire the bandit leader to use his outlaws, fifty strong, to attack the fort and draw off the soldiers, allowing him to escape with the ten wagons of gold with the Southern families. $10,000 in gold was a mistake, though, as it arouses Morrell’s suspicions.
Then begins the long trek across 1,200 miles of desert with the Union army, with Bradford, after them, and Morrell and his band lurking around for the big finale.
A word about some of the other players I recognized. A very young Paul Fix(Micah Torrance of The Rifleman) had a small part as one of Morrell’s outlaws. And one of Flynn’s partners was Alan Hale, a former leading man in the silents, and the father of Alan Hale, Jr., the “Skipper” on Gilligan’s Island. The resemblance between father and son was amazing, the elder could have been the junior with fifteen more years on him.
Enjoyed this one.