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Silver Queen

Silver Queen(1942)

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teaser Silver Queen (1942)

You would be forgiven if, while watching Silver Queen (1942), you thought it was a Warner Brothers release. This independent production distributed by Universal was made possible through a package deal between Warners and producer Harry Sherman. The studio provided Sherman with his leading lady, leading man, and director, Warners workhorse Lloyd Bacon, far more at ease with contemporary big city stories like Marked Woman (1937) and 42nd Street (1933) than with this film's 1873 setting, although such elements in the script as slick gamblers, stock market crashes, bank panics, and shady dealings were subjects not far from those he might encounter at his home studio.

The package deal was perhaps not as generous as it seems. After all, Warners wasn't giving up Michael Curtiz, Bette Davis, and Errol Flynn. This film's stars were decidedly second-stringers at the studio, albeit fairly successful ones, whose services wouldn't be badly missed on the home lot. George Brent, usually seen squiring the likes of Davis or Kay Francis, plays gambler Jim Kincaid. He would not return to Warners until 1946 with My Reputation. Former band singer Priscilla Lane, Brent's at-first reluctant love interest in this story, had enjoyed a pretty good run at Warners since her debut there in Varsity Show (1937), including several movies with John Garfield and a co-starring role in Raoul Walsh's hit James Cagney gangster epic The Roaring Twenties (1939). By this point, however, her career was already starting a downturn. She would only make one more picture under her Warners contract, Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) before retiring from the screen in 1948.

Nevertheless, that Warners was willing to let even Brent, Lane, and Bacon go to such an apparently minor production speaks well of Sherman, known primarily as producer of B Westerns. But one would have to admit they were highly successful ones. Sherman had come from a background as an exhibitor beginning in 1914. A year later he was the Western U.S. distributor for D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation (1915). He ventured into production when talkies came in, going out on his own in 1935 with his self-named company. Sherman had his greatest success with a string of more than 50 Hopalong Cassidy pictures. Late in his career he made some more prestigious Westerns with Joel McCrea, including Buffalo Bill (1944) and Four Faces West (1948). Sherman died in 1952 at the age of 67.

Much of the success of Sherman's films can be attributed to production personnel with whom he had forged a long-standing working relationship, among them editor Sherman A. Rose, who worked with the producer 37 times, eventually moving into television and earning an Emmy for The Big Valley Western series, and art director Ralph Berger (25 Sherman films), whose work on Silver Queen earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White (shared with Emile Kuri). Berger's television career also netted him two Emmy Awards. Some of his most significant work in that medium was as supervising art director for I Love Lucy.

Of all Sherman's long-time collaborators, it's Russell Harlan who stands out the most. Harlan started in the film industry as an actor and stuntman. By the 1930s he was working as a camera assistant, moving to lead cinematographer in 1937 when he shot his first Sherman-produced Hopalong Cassidy pictures. His work with the producer helped him hone his craft and gain a high reputation as someone who could make B Westerns look like high-budget features thanks to his choice of majestic mountain ranges, expansive skies, and other beautiful natural backdrops as settings for what would have otherwise been pedestrian action flicks. Not long after Silver Queen, Harlan would really break out into the big time with his work on the superior war drama A Walk in the Sun (1945) and then the big-budget Western Red River (1948) for director Howard Hawks, for whom he would work a total of seven times over a period of 16 years, including Harlan's Oscar®-nominated work on The Big Sky (1952) and Hatari! (1962). Hawks considered Harlan one of his favorite cinematographers, frequently praising him for his skills and high standards. Harlan received a total of six Academy Award nominations in both black-and-white and color, including To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and Hawaii (1966). Curiously, he is credited on this film only as "photographer," even though in Sherman's release only a month earlier, the Hopalong Cassidy picture Undercover Man (1942), Harlan was listed as "director of photography."

In addition to Harlan's nod for this film, the Academy also nominated Victor Young's score. A prolific composer and arranger, Young worked on more than 300 film scores over a period of 20 years, earning 22 Oscar® nominations and one win, for Around the World in Eighty Days (1956).Director: Lloyd Bacon
Producer: Harry Sherman
Screenplay: Cecile Kramer, Bernard Schubert; story by Forrest Halsey and William Allen Johnston
Photographer: Russell Harlan
Editing: Sherman A. Rose
Art Direction: Ralph Berger
Original Music: Victor Young
Cast: George Brent (James Kincaid), Priscilla Lane (Coralie Adams), Bruce Cabot (Gerald Forsythe), Lynne Overman (Hector Bailey), Eugene Pallette (Steve Adams)

By Rob Nixon

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