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Gold Is Where You Find It (DVD Review)

3 Nov, 2014 By: Mike Clark

Available via Warner Archive
$21.99 DVD
Not rated.
Stars George Brent, Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains, Margaret Lindsay.

Watching early three-strip Technicolor can be its own reward, the kind of dealmaker that has to suffice when the inoffensively dullish George Brent — though I will be the first to curtsy if Olive Films ever issues Republic’s Brent/Russ Tamblyn/Bob Feller oddity The Kid From Cleveland on Blu-ray — isn’t enough by itself to make you watch. And to be honest, take away a good supporting cast and one topical selling point of interest to the ecologically minded, and we likely wouldn’t be giving this semi-obscurity too much notice were it not for its visual novelty value. Which is: seeing Northern California and its apple orchards in 1930s pigmentary splendor (though the registration quality of the print utilized here does tend to vary).

The previously noted topical selling point is the story’s ecological thrust, which probably could be modified to serve a modern-day muckraker about fracking. And from what I’ve read, the portrayal here of later 19th-century gold-drilling events is pretty much on the mark, which means that this movie’s inclusion in any retrospective about the settling and development of California would probably be mandatory. In other words, gold may be where you find it in this movie, but to the settlers who are fighting gold-fever interests here, mud ends up being in even bigger supply.

Though the old “Queen of Technicolor” title was usually shared by redheaded actresses from Maureen O’Hara to Rhonda Fleming, the fact that Olivia de Havilland starred in four three-strip movies before 1940 — not even counting her relatively drab role in the Selznick/MGM Gone With the Wind — posed her as the Warner contender to the throne, even if she was a brunette. Three of these four were The Adventures of Robin Hood, Dodge City and (in another supporting role) The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, yet Gold preceded all of them. This was a surprise to me because I’d always assumed that Robin Hood came first instead of opening about three months later in 1938. Well, every day is an education.

The subject here is, as indicated, hydraulic gold prospecting — not the famed Sutter’s Mill “Rush” of 1849 but a subsequent craze late in the 1870s that saw more advanced hydraulic drilling techniques that had the downside of turning adjacent farmers’ lands into something like the cosmetic aftermath of Woodstock Nation. On the one side here are moneyed interests in San Francisco willing to rape the land in pursuit of nuggets — and on the other are farmers, including one played by Claude Rains, with de Havilland as his apple-growing daughter. Somewhere in the middle of all this is Brent as an employee of the drillers — a decent guy even before his supposed priorities get compromised after he falls for the orchard teen-queen (the script says de Havilland’s character is “almost 17,” which is pushing it).

The supporting cast includes Gabby Hayes in three-strip — the only time, I think, I’ve ever seen him in color other than a wonderful shot in one of HBO’s grand When It Was a Game documentaries when Gabby and Roy Rogers are captured sitting in the stands (read: sartorial splendor) during a MLB game. And speaking of Western icons, Tim Holt plays de Havilland’s heavy-drinking hothead of a brother — the same Tim Holt thought to have been just a ‘B’-actor yet one who was in three of the greatest Hollywood movies ever: The Magnificent Ambersons, My Darling Clementine (just out on Blu-ray from Criterion) and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Barton MacLane (also from Treasure) is here as well; he starts mouthing off to Brent (his boss) the first time they meet, so you know he’s going to get decked for about the millionth time on screen. And faring worst when it comes to mud is poor Russell Simpson, who’d soon play Pa Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, trying to work his way to the same California citrus culture that this movie celebrates.

As far as I can discern, this entertainingly classy programmer was Warner’s second three-strip movie after 1937’s very minor God’s Country and the Woman, also with George Brent — which apparently wasn’t enough to earn him a “King” of Technicolor title from the trade press. Maybe this is because — and I would never have known this without IMDb.com — Russell Simpson made six Technicolor movies through just 1939, when they were relatively few and far between. But as a journalistic hook in Photoplay or Modern Screen, this wouldn’t have been very sexy, either.

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