Dodge is a wild cattle town. The railhead for transport back to the 'civilised' United States, it is the point to which Texan cattle are driven. The interface of rail and hoof is significant. When the cowpokes hit town after weeks on the trail they have a strong inclination to kick up their heels, and bulging pay packets with which to do it. There is no effective law in Dodge, and gunfights are commonplace. Powerful cattle dealers like Jeff Surrett (Bruce Cabot) cheat the merchants with impunity. Dodge City needs a strong, principled man if it is to change its lawless ways.
The film's opening image is a train hurtling westward at full throttle, a symbol of the burgeoning industrial strength of the USA, and of the Manifest Destiny which is already turning America's energies towards the Pacific and obliterating the frontier. We see the train slicing across the magnificent Kansas plains, and 'racing' the stagecoach. Machines are supplanting horses, and the train wins the race.
Olivia de Havilland is at her wide-eyed prettiest as Abbie Erving, the young woman who treks north with the cattle and eventually falls in love with the handsome sherriff. Flynn is an aussie actor playing an Irishman in Kansas, and both he and de Havilland are terrific as the romantic leads. A young Ann Sheridan plays Ruby the showgirl, Alan Hale is Rusty the abstemious cowhand and Ward Bond is Taylor the minor baddie. Victor Jory has fun playing Yancey, the mean ornery villain with the straggly beard.
Wade Hatton personifies the American Way. An immigrant who has done well for himself by dint of hard work, sharp intelligence and plenty of talent, he is fearless when it comes to protecting the weak or righting wrongs. When the call comes to pin on a badge and restore law and order to Dodge City, he doesn't hesitate. Wade stands up to an angry lynch mob, even though the 'victim' is a worthless crook.
A liberal alliance between the new sherriff and the town's newspaper proposes to bring down the evil Surrett. The newspaper's office has a portrait of Abe Lincoln on the wall. Appropriately, a killer is brought to justice because his hand is stained with indelible printer's ink - serving notice on all bad guys that the Press will always be there to expose wrongdoing.
The clowning is well done. Watch for the cowpoke who has his head driven against a post, or Flynn athletically tripping, falling and being hit in the back by a swing door. Rusty preaches temperance, but is gradually overcome by the tempting sounds of the saloon punch-up.
Wade's clean-up policy is depicted skilfully in the scene where a newspaper headline dissolves into the arrival of peaceful settlers by train, showing us neatly how Dodge is being tamed.
Verdict - A good-natured western with appealing performances by Flynn and de Havilland.