Union officer Kerry Bradford escapes from Confederate Prison and is set to Virginia City in Nevada. Once there he finds that the former commander of his prison Vance Irby is planning to send $5 million in gold to save the Confederacy.
Clay Hardin is a San Antonio rancher who has been run off his land by cattle rustlers. There's a range war going on and Hardin is determined to get the man behind it all, Roy Stuart. Hardin has been hiding out in Mexico, biding his time and decides the time has come for him to return. He's managed to get hold of one of Stuart's tally books that clearly shows he was selling cattle that didn't belong to him. Stuart and his partner Legare will go to any lengths to stop Hardin before he can put the evidence before a court. Beautiful dance hall performer Jeanne Starr arrives in San Antonio under contract to Stuart and Legare but she is clearly smitten with the handsome Hardin. When the army is called away, Hardin and his supporters are left on their own to defend themselves.Written by
As he lies dead in Flynn's arms, John Litel blinks at least twice. See more »
[about the dance]
Took me years to pick up.
It must have been the only thing that took you that long.
Well, we don't get pretty girls like you down here often. Guess that's why we have to pay for it.
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Atmospheric Warner Brothers Western A Treat For The Eye And The Ear
San Antonio, released in the very last days of 1945, was Warner Brothers' New Year gift to a war weary public. Demobilized GI's had made it clear in opinion polls and and at the box office they did not want to see any more military movies for a while. Would they like a Technicolor western with top stars, A-1 production values, lots of action, dancing girls, songs, and quality traditional music. They did indeed. San Antonio was a smash box office hit, and it still holds up today. This sturdy, sumptuously produced Errol Flynn oater just gets better and better with each subsequent viewing.
And no wonder. Warners pulled out all the stops when they made this one. Both the color cinematography, photographed by Bert Glennon and overseen by Technicolor Corporation's top adviser Natalie Kalmus (see my review of California for remarks on this little-known but important figure), and the Accademy Award nominated set decoration are as plush and impressive as any to be seen this side of Gone With The Wind. The exterior sets are as good as the lavish interiors. Instead of just using the standard western town set, Warners made it look like old San Antonio with sandstone building fronts, a plaza crowded with Hispanic peddlers carts and booths, and even a mock-up of the Alamo ruin the way it was before its 20th century restoration. This movie is a visual treat, but an auditory one, too. A robust score by top Hollywood composer Max Steiner punctuates every dramatic moment. His pulsating score is complemented by an almost continuous steam of musical numbers produced by the bands and and singers in the saloons and dance halls, in and around which most of the action takes place. The song "Some Sunday Morning" garnered another Accademy Award nomination for San Antonio.
Flynn and hot new leading lady Alexis Smith shine at the top of the cast with solid support from ever-reliable John Litel and the delightfully funny tandem of Cuddles Sakall and Florence Bates. Formidable villainy is provided by the hard, cold menace of Paul Kelly and the urbane sliminess of Victor Francen. Throw in hundreds of extras, a Dickensesque richness of detail and minor characterization, period stage coaches, a chorus line of handsomely buxom dancing girls, a sonorous male quartet, hundreds of rounds of blank ammunition expended (mostly in the same scene), and you have one of the most extravagant, richly atmospheric, and fun westerns ever put on film.
Though the story is somewhat standard, the script is very tight with colorful, sharp dialog. Not surprisingly, since it was provided by two of the top western screenwriters, W. R. Burnett (Arrowhead, Colorado Territory) and Alan Le May (The Searchers, The Unforgiven) Since Burnett was actually better known for his crime stories (Little Ceaser, The Asphalt Jungle, High Siera), it may not be just trendiness that San Antonio seems to be stylistically influenced by noir, crime thrillers popular in 1940's. While the two villains, Kelly and Francen, are partners in large-scale criminal activities, each will cut the other's throat at first chance, not unlike the ruthless bootleggers of the prohibition era. Much of Steiner's scoring of the action-suspense sequences seems to have been lifted from his score for classic noir The Big Sleep, filmed in 1944 but not released until l946. All the shootouts occur at night, including the climatic gunfight, involving hundreds, eventually destroying a saloon, spilling out into the street with runaway horses smashing peddlers' booths, and winding up in a three-cornered showdown in the Alamo ruins. This sequence is so bone-rattling violent, lengthy, and noisy, it seems to have more in common with one of Warners' rat-a-tat-tat gangster movies than with standard western action. All done with the fluid editing and smooth style typical of big studio pictures from this era. Director David Butler, more frequently seen on the musical comedy sound stage than in the wide-open spaces, and producer Robert Buckner deserve kudos for guiding this sprawling, complex production to such artistic and financial success.
Dashing Errol Flynn, beautiful, elegant Alexis Smith, lavish production, gorgeous three-strip Technicolor, titillating music, thrilling action -- what more could you ask? San Antonio is top notch western entertainment from Old Hollywood's golden years.
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