Based on a true story, Virginia City (1940) is part of a successful series of seven collaborations between Michael Curtiz and Errol Flynn. Despite an overwhelming love story and some flaws in the cast, this western conveys a story of adventure and passion thanks to Miriam Hopkins and Errol Flynn’s performances.
This film is set during the dying days of the Civil War. The Union has the edge, and the days of the Confederacy as an independent state are counted. Rich Confederate mine owners in Virginia City, Nevada, located in Union territory, decide to put their gold to the service of the South. Nonetheless, one question remains. How to transfer this huge amount of gold across the country? Julia Hayne (Miriam Hopkins) is the key in this operation. She informs Commander Vance Irby (Randolph Scott) of the importance of the situation and convinces him to take the commandment of this mission. Union intelligence officer Kerry Bradford (Errol Flynn) is also informed of the planned operation and travels to Virginia City in order to disrupt the gold shipment. On the stagecoach, he meets the elegant Julia Hayne, who introduces herself as a dance hall girl but is actually a spy for the Confederacy. John Murrell (Humphrey Bogart), who pretends to be a gun salesman, tries to rob every passenger on board. However, Bradford manages to get everybody out of this skirmish safe and sound. Julia and Bradford fall in love not long after their encounter. When they reach Virginia City, Julia disappears and directly warns Commander Vance Irby that Bradford is in town.
This movie displays one major flaw in the casting. Humphrey Bogart is introduced with a strange sounding Mexican accent and a pencil mustache in bad taste, supposed to make him the perfect desperado. Miriam Hopkins offers a good performance. Nevertheless, viewers of Dodge City by Michael Curtiz, starring Errol Flynn in the leading role, may have preferred to see Olivia de Havilland along with Flynn for a ninth times on the screen.
Despite an interesting plot, the storyline remains heavy and rather complex – a complexity that is accentuated by the length of the movie as the plot takes time to develop and action to happen. A love triangle regrouping Julia, Irby and Bradford, dominates most of the film. Irby is considered as the runner-up throughout the movie. As a perfect Southern gentleman, he decides to step aside so as to Bradford and Julia live their love.
Played by Miriam Hopkins, Julia Hayne is an interesting character that appears as singularly complex and tortuous. She is singularly complex and tortuous. She does not fall in love with Bradford right away. Indeed, at first she is rude to him. Throughout the movie she is filled with indecision and, later on, guilt, and she does a good job of conveying those feelings to the spectator.
Virginia City, released during World War II, is above all a western of propaganda that celebrates the unity of the American nation and its supreme superiority over the enemy. Indeed, despite the Civil War context, Irby and Bradford are not seen as enemies but men who, unfortunately, have to fight each other under exceptional circumstances. The real enemy is the outsider, in this case, Murell and his cohort of Mexican banditos who ultimately decide to attack the wagon train. Fortunately, the gold, from Nevada does not fall into foreign hands, as the Southerners and the Northerners unite in order to counter the villain’s attack. The love story between Julia and Bradford represents love and affection between the two parties that are finally reunited.
Despite some miscasts and a complex plot, this movie offers decent performances by Eroll Flynn and Miriam Hopkins. It features great landscape shots where the importance of the journey plays a major role, and where space is greatly felt by the spectator as the fully loaded gold wagons cross the West through its tortuous and arid territories.
Virginia City (1940)
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Screenplay by Robert Buckner
Produced by Robert Fellows
Music by Max Steiner
Produced and distributed by Warner Bros
Running time: 121 minutes
Errol Flynn as Captain Kerry Bradford
Miriam Hopkins as Julia Hayne
Randolph Scott as Captain Vance Irby
Humphrey Bogart as John Murrell
Frank McHugh as Mr. Upjohn
Alan Hale as Olaf ‘Moose’ Swenson
Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams as ‘Marblehead’
John Litel as Thomas Marshall
Douglass Dumbrille as Major Drewery
Moroni Olsen as Dr. Robert Cameron
Russell Hicks as John Armistead
Dickie Jones as Cobby Gill
Frank Wilcox as Union Outpost Soldier
Russell Simpson as Frank Gaylord
Victor Kilian as Abraham Lincoln
Charles Middleton as Jefferson Davis