Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Adventures in Silverado (Columbia, 1948)


An OK Columbia B-Western


I don’t know whose bright idea it was to take Robert Louis Stevenson’s memoir or travelogue The Silverado Squatters (click the link for our review) and turn it into a 75-minute B-Western. Perhaps Adventures in Silverado was the brainchild of studio boss Harry Cohn or the picture’s producers Robert Cohn (Harry’s nephew) and Ted Richmond. In any case they hired Tom Kilpatrick (mostly a TV guy) and Jo Pagano (ditto, especially later Bonanza) along with experienced hand Kenneth Gamet, a regular writer for Randolph Scott, to cook up the screenplay. I don’t reckon any of the writers ever actually read Stevenson’s book – judging by the movie, anyway. The title screen introduced the film as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Adventures in Silverado but that wasn’t just poetic license, it was BS.



Still, it’s an entertaining little black & white oater in its way.


We open with RLS riding on the stage with Edgar Buchanan, who is the doc in Silverado. This Stevenson is a middle-aged and portly English gent (New Yorker Edgar Barrier) and alone, so not very like the Bohemian married Scot of reality, who was a skinny 29. Never mind. I suppose he figures in the tradition of writer/obeserver in Westerns, along with the likes of Hurd Hatfield’s Moultrie in The Left-Handed Gun, Bob Dylan’s Alias in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid and Saul Rubinek’s WW Beauchamp in Unforgiven. Good to see Edgar anyway, and indeed he will have an unusually picaresque role, as way more than an observer.


The stage is driven by an aggressive Zeke (Forrest Tucker), soon to emerge as the main bad guy and, if truth be told, rather overacting, Forrest dear, but we’ll let that slide, and his shotgun guard, one of the cowardly kind who boast of their courage, is Jake (good old Irving Bacon). Stevenson asks timorously about highwaymen but is reassured by the doc that robberies hardly ever happen. Naturally, though, they will.


Up comes another stagecoach, and inevitably it’s a race. This one is driven by Foss, built up in the Stevenson book, as we saw last time: “California boasts her famous stage-drivers, and among the famous, Foss is not forgotten.” Foss is played by William Bishop, then doing a Western or two for Columbia, not the most charismatic of  Western leads, I’d say, but he’s OK. He’s the hero of the tale. He loses the race, though, because of Ben Hur-ish hub-to-hub skullduggery by Zeke. In fact there’s a crash, and Foss’s best horse, Big Fella, is badly hurt. Luckily, Dr Buchanan is as good at patching up nags as he is at humans, and the noble steed will recover. “The more I see people, the better I like horses,” Doc Buchanan says. The other horses in Foss’s team are named for states, by the way, allowing him to admonish Arizona not to crowd out Utah.


Doc nurses Big Fella back to health


The action is all done pretty cheaply in the studio with back-projection but there’s the odd location shot of unnamed stuntmen driving the coaches and a bit of nice Joshua Tree now and then to break the monotony. The picture was shot by Columbia regular Henry Freulich.


In town (Silverado, not Calistoga) they meet the boss of Zeke’s stage line, the glam Jeannie Manning (Gloria Henry), who doesn’t take kindly to Foss and his stage (competition, you see).



Though Zeke keeps pushing (he’s rather a bully), Foss, despite being tough, won’t retaliate. We keep expecting him to punch Zeke out but he won’t. Is he afraid? A likely story! It’s just that he killed a man once, back in Salt Lake, by hitting him too hard in a fistfight, and he’s blowed if that’s gonna happen again.


We meet an unscrupulous mine owner, McHugh (Joseph Crehan) who, though rich, won’t cough up to help farmers on his land irrigate their crops. These farmers are the squatters, not the Stevensons. They used to be gold-diggers but when that failed they reverted to type and became sodbusters. Kindly Doc Buchanan does what he can to help them, waiving his fees, arranging a birthday party for one little sick squatter girl and giving her a pony (it’s all a bit saccharine, really) but they sure need help, these folk, and they’re not getting it from exploitative capitalist McHugh. If only they could raise some cash…



There’s a nice little in-joke for Westernistas, when Buchanan says he’d rather spend his time playing the card game fan tan. We immediately think of Abilene Town two years before and smile.


The inevitable stage robber is known as the Monk. He is mysterious, works alone, says nothing and wears a monk’s robe, who knows why. He always seems to know which stage is carrying gold, however crafty McHugh is. The first time we see him we have a pretty shrewd idea who it is, though the rest of the town is mystified. Only our surprise at the identity of the hold-up artist being a touch out of character makes us doubt. Otherwise, we’re durn sure who’s under that habit. Yet for now my lips are sealed, dear e-reader. Of spoilers shall there be none.



There’s a good bit (again, not in the book, obviously) when Stevenson grabs a shotgun in the saloon and quells an angry mob (led by Zeke, natch) looking to lynch Foss for being a Monk accomplice. Of course RLS quells the mob politely; he’s a gent.


Foss and Jeannie are already growing closer and we know it will be lerve.


Obviously Foss will finally overrule his reluctance to fistfight and there will be a mega Zeke-Foss combat which Foss will win. No spoilers there, it’s obvious. It will start when Zeke whips Big Fella (now cured). Foss doesn’t ever use a whip and he sure ain’t gonna let Zeke use one on his team.


You can spot Eddy Waller in the cast, as Will Thatcher, and Netta Packer doing Mrs Thatcher (no, not that one). Paul E Burns has a bit, as does Trevor Bardette. Interesting, too, is Fred Sears as Hatfield: Fred directed as many oaters as anyone but he started as an actor, on Charles Starrett movies, and here is reverting to type in a Western.


Adventures in Silverado (also known as Above All Laws) was directed by experienced Phil Karlson and has plenty of action before someone fixes a JUST MARRIED sign to the back of a stagecoach and the happy couple (Bill and Gloria) departs into a life of wedded bliss. A lot of Western movies went for the stagecoach plot (you might like to have a look at JAW’s essay on the matter, here) and this one will do nicely as an example. It’s all rather preposterous but since when did that stop us enjoying an oater?


Just forget Robert Louis Stevenson, that’s all.



3 Responses

  1. Who is Gloria? Must be Gloria Henry, Gene’s leading lady in several Columbia pictures. Well, it doesn’t matter because I never miss an Irving Bacon picture.

    1. Yes, Gloria Henry, leading lady now and then opposite Gene Autry, Eddy Arnold and Charles Starrett but no other Westerns of particular note except 4th-billed s Beth Forbes in RANCHO NOTORIOUS.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *