GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT (director: Michael Curtiz; screenwriter: based on a story by Clements Ripley/Warren Duff/Robert Buckner; cinematographer: Sol Polito; editors: Clarence Kolster/Owen Marks; music: Max Steiner; cast: George Brent (Jared Whitney), Olivia de Havilland (Serena ‘Sprat’ Ferris), Claude Rains (Colonel Chris Ferris), John Litel (Ralph Ferris), Barton MacLane (Slag Minton), Tim Holt (Lance Ferris), George ‘Gabby’ Hayes (Enoch), Margaret Lindsay (Rosanne McCooey Ferris), Sidney Toler (Harrison McCooey), Robert McWade (Mr. Frank Crouch), Willie Best (Joshua), Russell Simpson (John McKenzie), Marcia Ralston (Molly Featherstone); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Samuel Bischoff; Warner Bros.; 1938)
“Michael Curtiz directs a Western that is almost of epic proportions…”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Michael Curtiz directs a Western that is almost of epic proportions, and screenwriters Warren Duff and Robert Buckner greatly assist in bringing about a snazzy script that is based on Clements Ripley’s story. The simple plot pits upstart miners against farmers, as a violent feud develops between them. It even pits brother against brother. The history lesson that goes with the film starts with the Gold Rush in the California of 1849. But gold runs out by 1865. In its place the new settlers plant wheat in the rich soil, and that becomes their new gold as the farmers not only feed this country of ten million but export to England and France. But in 1877 gold again is found in the Sacramento Valley. The film focuses on a valley town called Tenspot and the growing battle between a prosperous Golden Moon San Francisco mining company listed on the stock exchange, who bring in big equipment such as hydraulic power drills which changes the environment by flooding the wheat fields, and the struggling farmers in opposition who are fighting for their survival and to preserve their nourishing land. They are led by Colonel Chris Ferris (Claude Rains), who thinks unkindly of the miners as fortune hunters without family values. The farmers are pictured as the good guys, the common man types, who hold all the ethical values that made the country great.
Dashing thirtysomething Jared Whitney (George Brent) is an ex-Vermont farmer who went on to become a college educated engineer, and shows up in Tenspot as the mining company’s new field superintendent of operations. The bosses back home in San Francisco are not satisfied with all the delays and Jared pushes the lazy bully foreman, Slag Minton (Barton MacLane), to get the men to work or else he will fire them. Jared also befriends an awkward and angry young man, the son of Chris Ferris, Lance (Tim Holt), who gets into a bar fight with some mine workers that Jared wisely breaks up by slugging Lance before it gets out of hand. When Lance brings Jared to the ranch in appreciation for being rescued, the engineer falls in love with his new friend’s 17-year-old sister Serena (Olivia de Havilland). The only thing they have in common that I can see, is that Serena has an orchard and Jared uses his vast knowledge and love for farming to help her irrigate the land in a more fruitful way than before. Otherwise the age gap seems enormous, and their love was never convincing nor animated.
Chris is disappointed that his brother Ralph Ferris (John Litel) sells his land to him for $100,000 so he can go to San Francisco and join the Golden Moon as an investor partner. Chris is further disappointed that Lance is more interested in the mines than in the farm, and strikes out on his own to live the good life in San Francisco and hang out with his Uncle Ralph and the other sleazy capitalists. When a struggling farmer, John McKenzie (Russell Simpson), watches his wife and child die as his land is flooded and his home collapses due to the mining operation afoot, all the farmers want to charge the mining camp and destroy it. Chris argues to take their case to the courts and get an injunction against them, and his cry for “law and order” wins for the moment.
Meanwhile after Jared and Serena declare their love for each other they are caught kissing by her dad, and Jared is barred from seeing her again. He goes to San Francisco to ask his mining boss Harrison McCooey (Sidney Toler) to build a dam. His idea is well-received by the conniving businessmen because they see it as a means of cutting off water to the two other competing mines. So they promote him and keep him in San Francisco, and after the dam is built their stock soars. Jared writes to Serena, but her father never gives her the letters. Serena thereby takes the initiative of meeting him again by visiting her Aunt Roseanne (Margaret Lindsay) in San Francisco. Roseanne is closer to his age. But when she meets Jared, as he’s bringing the flirtatious woman flowers in her house, their heart’s both flutter again. Jared and Serena quickly resume their romance, but thing change suddenly when she finds out that the battle between the miners and farmers can’t be avoided and she returns to her father’s side after reprimanding Jared for siding with the corrupt miners and she also manages to shame her brother into returning with her. The mining lawyer Crouch (Robert McWade) warns Ralph of the ranchers’ suit against the Golden Moon. McCooey reacts by sending men to stop the injunction papers from being served, even agreeing to kill them if they cross the barricades. Jared refuses to be part of their illegal activities and returns to the mine on his own to possibly stop the violence. The mining company puts the mean-spirited foreman Slag in charge of preventing the court paper from being served and having the mine shut down.
When Lance delivers the papers and is killed, the farmers take up arms and charge the mining camp. But in order to avoid further bloodshed, Jared asks Chris for thirty minutes so he can dynamite the dam. He succeeds in bursting the dam, and the onrushing water overtakes the mining camp causing a landslide. Order is restored. The greedy miners lose their appeal in court, and Jared and Serena reunite. They see California’s future in the orchards, as it’s in the fruit where the gold can be found.
Curtiz could never get the right kind of tension, despite the really fine cast and their very good performances. Nevertheless, it was an interesting film because the historical background to this economic struggle is given a human face and as presented gives one food for thought. This film has more weight than the usual Western.
REVIEWED ON 11/13/2002 GRADE: B +
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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