Having already made seven westerns, Errol Flynn got into the saddle one last time in 1950 to make Rocky Mountain. The whole tone of the film is different to what went before, and that makes it somewhat atypical. Both They Died with Their Boots On and Silver River had their darker moments but neither was as relentlessly grim as this. From the opening moments, when a weary, unshaven Flynn leads his bedraggled soldiers across a bleak landscape, an air of resigned fatalism hangs over the characters. This makes for a superior little picture, and one entirely in keeping with the era in which it was produced. By 1950 the western was on the cusp of one of its regular periods of transition, about to enter that Golden Age when heroes were less than perfect and endings weren’t always happy.
Lafe Barstow (Flynn) is a captain in the Confederate army who, in the dying days of the Civil War, has been sent west to California to raise a guerrilla force which his superiors hope will cause sufficient havoc to take the heat off their forces back east. We get our first sight of the small band of rebels as they near their rendezvous with the bandit warlord who has pledged his men to the cause. From there on the action is confined to the titular mountain and the barren valley below. Things go awry almost immediately when Barstow and his men take it upon themselves to rescue a stagecoach being pursued by a raiding party of hostile Shoshone. This act of gallantry is destined to backfire when it’s revealed that the sole surviving passenger is Johanna Carter (Patrice Wymore), the fiancee of a Union lieutenant stationed nearby. Not only has the secrecy of their mission been compromised but the rebels soon find themselves besieged by the vengeful Shoshone. A tense waiting game ensues and hard decisions will have to be made by all concerned. This is quite a downbeat story and, despite the misleading publicity blurb on the poster, the romantic aspects are largely ignored. There’s also a conspicuous lack of the kind of broad comedic moments that frequently characterise westerns starring Flynn.
I really enjoyed Flynn’s performance as the doomed soldier struggling to choose between duty and human decency. It’s sort of ironic that it should be his last western, and a low budget picture, where he finds a role that he could get his teeth into. Rocky Mountain was to be one of Flynn’s last good parts before he experienced a mini revival in his last years. It proves that the man could certainly act when the right material was offered to him - it’s just a shame that he chose, or had to accept, such poor vehicles thereafter. Patrice Wymore was soon to become the third Mrs. Flynn and she does fine as the reluctant hostage, appearing remarkably assured in what was only her second film. The support cast is generally good and there’s the bonus of seeing Slim Pickens making his screen debut as one of Flynn’s men. Long-standing sidekick Guinn Williams is also prominently featured (looking quite old and weathered, it has to be said) and he indulges in none of the comic pratfalls with which he’s often associated. Director William Keighley shot this sparse movie very professionally; both the action set pieces and the more thoughtful, talky passages work equally well, and he really gets the best out of the New Mexico locations. There’s not one interior in the whole film, and that’s always a good thing when the budget is restricted.
Warner’s R1 DVD of Rocky Mountain is another excellent transfer that shows off the crisp black and white photography to good effect. There’s the usual package of extras with three more of the very welcome western shorts that appeared on the disc for Montana. The film has also been granted a commentary track by Thomas McNulty, which I found both enjoyable and informative. All told, we get a classy presentation of a very fine movie which I’d recommend highly.
So, that brings me to the end of this little series on the westerns of Errol Flynn. I’m not sure how I’d rank them, but Rocky Mountain, They Died With Their Boots On and Silver River would have to be in the top three, with the first two probably sharing the top spot. I’d have no hesitation in placing San Antonio and Montana at the bottom of the pile, with the other three jockeying for position in the middle. Anyway, I’ve enjoyed viewing and writing down my thoughts on these films, and I hope others have taken some pleasure in reading them.