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Between 1935 and 1941, Errol Flynn and director Michael Curtiz made 12 pictures together, starting with The Case of the Curious Bride, in which Flynn had a brief non-speaking role, and ending with Dive Bomber. Virginia City was the first of three to be released in 1940 alone. (The others: The Sea Hawk and Santa Fe Trail.)
Though not as strong as Dodge City, a Flynn/Curtiz picture from the year before (and certainly not as strong as other collaborations like Captain Blood, 1935, or The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938) Virginia City was still a lavishly produced western which proved quite profitable for Warner Bros. The production's backstory, however, is arguably even more entertaining than the film!
Flynn plays a Union officer who escapes from a Confederate prison and then tries to prevent a Nevada gold shipment from reaching the Confederate army. Humphrey Bogart is severely - though amusingly - miscast as a half-breed bandit named John Murrell (!) with a Spanish accent and a pencil-thin moustache, and Miriam Hopkins is also out of her element as a saloon singer who's really a Southern spy. Randolph Scott, on the other hand, playing the Southern prison commander and orchestrator of the gold shipment, seems a natural for the part.
Ironically, the Randolph Scott role was originally conceived for Flynn. And Hopkins's role was developed with Ann Sheridan in mind, who undoubtedly would have been a better fit. In fact, Virginia City was plagued with script, production and personnel problems all along. Shooting began without a finished script, angering Flynn, who complained unsuccessfully to the studio about it. Flynn disliked the temperamental Curtiz and tried to have him removed from the film. Curtiz didn't like Flynn (or costar Miriam Hopkins) either. And Humphrey Bogart apparently didn't care for Flynn or Randolph Scott! Making matters worse was the steady rain that fell for two of the three weeks of location shooting near Flagstaff, AZ. Flynn detested rain, and was physically unwell for quite some time because of it.
As Peter Valenti has written, "Errol's frustration at the role can be easily understood: he changed from antagonist to protagonist, from Southern to Northern officer, almost as the film was being shot. [This] intensified Errol's feelings of inadequacy as a performer and his contempt for studio operation."
Two Trivia Notes: Yakima Canutt, one of Hollywood's most famous stuntmen, repeats his Stagecoach (1939) stunt by jumping from horse to horse on a speeding wagon. And Virginia City is not actually a sequel to Dodge City, even though Dodge City ends with Henry O'Neill ordering Errol Flynn to Virginia City!
Producer: Robert Fellows, Hal B. Wallis
Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Robert Buckner
Cinematography: Sol Polito
Film Editing: George Amy
Art Direction: Ted Smith
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Errol Flynn (Capt. Kerry Bradford), Miriam Hopkins (Julia Hayne), Randolph Scott (Capt. Vance Irby), Humphrey Bogart (John Murrell), Frank McHugh (Mr. Upjohn), Alan Hale (Olaf "Moose" Swenson).
BW-119m. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold