Rocky Mountain (1950)

Written by John Chard on August 19, 2018

There never was any other way. We just put it off awhile.

Rocky Mountain is directed by William Keighley and written by Winston Miller and Alan Le May. It stars Errol Flynn, Patrice Wymore, Scott Forbes, Guinn Williams, Dick Jones, Howard Petrie and Slim Pickens. Music is by Max Steiner and cinematography by Ted McCord.

Tell you what's funny, I was all set to write the prologue to this film as an opener to the review. Taken from a marker that sits at the foot of the actual Rocky Mountain (AKA: Ghost Mountain), it tells us of the noble fact that forms the basis of the story - whist also telling us of the outcome! Couple this with a narration device by our Errol, then you have two rather annoying things that stop this from being high echelon Western film making. As it is, it's a great film regardless.

Plot has Flynn leading a small group of Confederates into California to hopefully curry favour from Cole Smith (Petrie). Smith has a considerable army of outlaws that the Southern Confederates could use in the hope of staving off defeat to the Union forces. Fate, circumstance and matters of honour are set to play their hands.

It was to be Errol Flynn's last Western venture, the last of his work in a genre he was not particularly fond of. How strange to find then that it's actually his best Western film performance. Paired with a director clearly able to tap into something more than being a flirtatious good looking hero, Flynn gives Captain Lafe Barstow a dignified elegance, becoming a leader of men of some considerable substance - and crucially he has screenwriters and producers willing to give us a sombre story.

Filmed out in New Mexico, the surrounds magnificent, it's brilliant how Keighley and McCord cloak the story in a claustrophobic aura. There's a sense of strife as a constant, even as heroic posturing asks us to thump the chest and shout rah rah rah. Flynn's men are a great bunch, lovable tough boy rogues each with their own fallible core, while the mystery element of Cole Smith's involvement in proceedings, and that of the looming Indian War, keeps the narrative interesting.

Wymore would soon become the next in line of Flynn's wives, but there's no hint of it here, the production team writing the characters apart in strong and believable fashion. Wymore's performance is merely ok, but it's not a token job and with so much machismo about it speaks volumes that Wymore and her character are welcome and crucial to the story's soul. Comic relief is kept to an absolute minimum, rightly so, the only jovial sightings here are that when the canine of the piece is in flight, where Steiner steps away from moody Civil War flavours for a bit of jolification.

It is however with the ending where the film could have died on its own sword or thrive, having asked us to invest greatly in Barstow's own - Magnificent Seven - Wild Bunch - The Professionals etc, we need to care about the outcome, to feel it. And we do. The action excites, the stunts and speedy set plays hold court, then the heroism and chest pushed out bravery of it all pays us off - capped off by a character order that tingles the senses as Steiner gives us a "Dixie" lament.

This may not have the bluster of Flynn's other more well known Westerns, and certainly it's not one to be picking up if one is after a mood lifter. It is however a must for those who believe those critics who even today still write of him being a plastic actor, because given the right director, the right material on the page, then Flynn had substance in his locker. It's also one for Western fans to seek out who want more than just your hooray glossy frontage. 8/10