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Virginia City (1940)

aka Virginia City

Directed By: 
Details: 121 mins · English

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Plot:

Union officer Kerry Bradford (Errol Flynn) stages a daring escape from a Confederate prison run by prison commander Vance Irby (Randolph Scott) after learning that the rebels plan to smuggle five million dollars in gold from Virginia City, Nevada (in Union territory), to Texas, from where it can be shipped to Richmond, Virginia to aid the Confederate war effort. Bradford reports to Union headquarters and is immediately sent to Virginia City to determine where the gold is being kept. On the stagecoach, he meets and falls in love with the elegant Julia Hayne (Miriam Hopkins), who unbeknownst to him is in fact a dance-hall girl—and a rebel spy! Also on the stagecoach is the legendary John Murrell (Humphrey Bogart), leader of a gang of "bandidos" traveling as a gun salesman. Before he and his gang can rob the stage, Bradford gets the drop on them and they escape empty-handed.

When the stage reaches Virginia City, Julia gives Bradford the slip and heads off to warn Captain Vance Irby (Randolph Scott)—the former prison commander now managing the gold-smuggling operation—that Bradford is in town. Bradford follows Irby to the rebels' hideout behind a false wall in a blacksmiths' shop, but the gold is moved before he arrives. The Union garrison is called out to patrol the roads to prevent any wagons from leaving town.

While Irby is meeting with the sympathetic town doctor, Murrell shows up looking for someone to set his broken arm. Irby offers Murrell $10,000 to have his bandidos attack the garrison, which will force the Union soldiers guarding the roads to come to its defense. While the soldiers are busy defending the garrison, Irby's rebels will smuggle the gold out in the false bottoms of their wagons. First Irby needs to take care of Bradford. He uses Julia to arrange a meeting between the two men, and then takes Bradford prisoner, intending to return him to prison. (Irby, of course, is too honorable to simply shoot Bradford on the spot.)

The rebels' wagon train reaches a Union outpost, where the wagons are stopped and searched. The skittish rebels start a firefight, and in the confusion Bradford escapes. Pursued closely by Irby and his men, he rides his horse down a steep incline and ends up somersaulting down the hill. The rebels, believing him dead, continue toward Texas. Bradford returns to the outpost and sends a telegraph to the garrison. Major Drewery (Douglass Dumbrille), the garrison commander, is scornful of Bradford as a soldier and does not take his advice, so the pursuit falls ever further behind the rebels, who are themselves fighting thirst, privation, and the unforgiving terrain. Bradford is able to persuade Drewery to allow him to take and a small detachment to follow his hunch.

Meanwhile, plotting to steal the entire shipment, the bandidos return and attempt to take the gold. The Confederate wagons are trapped in a canyon and the gold appears to be lost when Bradford and the detachment arrive. Irby is wounded in the gunfight, but Bradford's superior military skills and the rebels' long guns eventually drive off the bandidos. That night, knowing that in the morning both Murrell's bandidos and Drewery's command will arrive, Bradford takes the gold from the wagons and buries it in the canyon.

Drewery and his men arrive in the morning in time to crush the bandidos' renewed attack. Bradford denies the gold ever existed and is brought up on charges in a court-martial, where he defends his actions. He defends his action in that "as a soldier" he knew the gold might have been used to win the war for the South and prevented that, but "as a man" he knows it belongs to the South and he would prefer that it be used to rebuild the South's shattered economy and wounded pride after the war. The court finds him guilty of high treason and sentences him to death on April 9, 1865.

The day before Bradford's scheduled execution, Julia meets with Abraham Lincoln (Victor Kilian, seen only in silhouette, and pleads for Bradford's life. Lincoln reveals that at that very moment, Generals Lee and Grant are meeting at Appomattox Courthouse to end the war. As the war is over, and in a symbol of the reconciliation between North and South, Lincoln pardons Bradford in the spirit of his second inaugural address, "With malice toward none; with charity for all..."