Author and naturalist Zane Grey has been called the "greatest storyteller of the American West," drawing on his colorful past and rich life experiences to capture the elusive spirit of the "Old West" in the written word. In 1872 Pearl Zane Gray was born in Zanesville, Ohio, a town named for his mother's ancestors who settled it. Growing up, he took great delight in fishing and the American pastime, baseball. The latter would lead to a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in dentistry, and a brief stint in the minor leagues. It was after a fateful hunting trip to Arizona that Gray fell head over heels for the western frontier and its history and, with the support of his wife, turned his attention to writing full time. Under the pen name Zane Grey he would go on to popularize the western genre in literature and become one of the first millionaire authors.
Throughout the teens, '20s and '30s, Grey had at least one bestseller in the top ten at any given time and like most successful writers, his works inspired several films. Many of the earliest adaptations were made during the silent era and were produced by Zane's own motion picture company, which he later sold to Paramount Pictures who would then go on to adapt dozens of Grey's works. In the 1940's RKO had picked up where Paramount left off, by feeding the need for cheap, entertaining westerns and war pictures. When their reliable leading man, Tim Holt, was drafted to fight a real war, they scrambled to fill his empty saddle and cast the relatively unknown Robert Mitchum. Interestingly enough, Zane Grey's Nevada was originally adapted as a silent picture in 1927 and marked the debut of another legendary actor, Gary Cooper (who later starred in Zane Grey's western epic <Fighting Caravans).
Mitchum stars as wandering cowboy Jim Lacy who, along with his trusty sidekicks Dusty (Guinn Williams) and the "Irish Mexican" Chito Jose Gonzales Bustamante Rafferty (Richard Martin, who actually originated the character in the WWII picture Bomabardier and would reprise it in countless westerns to come), dreams of striking it rich mining gold from the "Comstock Bonanza." As it turns out, the "Comstock Bonanza" is a bust with frustrated miners leaving in droves. Old man 'Pancake' Comstock, who discovered the lode, is selling off quite a bit of his claim with most of it being bought up by crooked assayer Cash Burridge (Craig Reynolds). Burridge suspects that the real value isn't the gold at all, but he's waiting on his girlfriend and "businesswoman" Julie Dexter (Anne Jeffreys) to return from Carson City with crucial information to confirm his suspicions. On her trip back to Gold Hill, Julie's wagon goes out of control and only Lacy's quick thinking is able to save her. It's only after her rescue that Lacy realizes just how beautiful Julie is, and in repayment she nicknames him Nevada and offers him an open invite to her place.
As is often the case in these B Westerns, a remarkable coincidence and a case of "wrong place, wrong time" goes a long way to furthering the plot. After Lacy and his gang win $7,000 in "yellow backs" (a nickname for the treasury notes from the Bank of Sacramento) at a crooked dice game, they split up and he heads for Gold Hill to wait for his friends as 'Nevada.' Burridge tries to buy out homesteader Ben Ide, whose property is situated right in the center of the lode, but he refuses. As Ben and his daughter Hattie are on their way to meet a government assayer to have their claim assessed they're attacked by Burridge who shoots and kills Ben from a distance with his rifle. His body falls from the wagon and Hattie races back to town to get the sheriff, allowing Burridge the opportunity to make the murder look like a robbery by taking the $7,000 in "yellow backs" from Ben's body. On his way into town, 'Nevada' discovers the body just as the posse arrives and assumes he committed the horrible crime, with his $7,000 in gambling winnings used as the "evidence" against him.
The sheriff locks 'Nevada' up, while Burridge decides to strike while the irons hot. He fills the locals up with booze and stirs them up sufficiently that they form an impromptu lynch mob and head to the sheriff's office to string 'Nevada' up. Lucky for him, Chito and Rafferty have come to town looking for him and decide to use the situation to their advantage. Taking charge of the mob, they prepare to hang 'Nevada' themselves, but instead all three ride out of town. Determined to get to the bottom of things, 'Nevada' goes to Hattie to profess his innocence and enlist her aid in solving the mystery of her father's death. Of course, Burridge has other ideas and won't go down without a fight, putting 'Nevada' and those helping him at risk.
I'd always considered myself a fan of Mitchum's work, but upon writing this I realize that I haven't actually seen that many of his films. Of course, when the ones I have seen are Night Of The Hunter and Cape Fear, those two performances alone are powerful and compelling enough to make anyone a fan. Still, it was very interesting to see a young Robert Mitchum in his first starring role. All of 27 years old, but still possessing that calm, tough exterior that would go on to define him throughout his career. While Nevada may have been considered a B picture, Mitchum's presence and Edward Killy's competent direction elevate this from your average "oat opera" into a fun and exciting film.
Picture: This movie is presented in a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio, with some edge enhancement and a nice B&W picture, but as a full restoration wasn't performed there are still several places where the film shows it's age.
Audio: This film is presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono.
Extras: Lions Gate Home Entertainment has included some nice Extras on this DVD, including "Outdoor Adventures," which was filmed during two of Grey's extended fishing expeditions and is introduced by his son Loren Grey, another shorter fishing film "Fisherman's Pluck" and the biography, "Zane Grey: An American Legend." "Outdoor Adventures" and "Fisherman's Pluck" are in B&W, while "An American Legend" is in color, but all of these shorts show their age.
Conclusion: Lions Gate Home Entertainment has been spoiling us with these "Zane Grey Western Classics," but I'm not complaining. In fact, I've been impressed with each and every one of these DVD releases and have grown to appreciate Zane Grey's contributions to our Western heritage. It also makes glaringly obvious the lack of quality classic western releases available on DVD. I know that John Wayne and Sam Peckinpah's estates are rectifying the matter as we speak, but I'm talking about the real classics. Lost gems like these which have gone unnoticed for the last few decades. While these releases haven't been "perfect" by any means, they've certainly been entertaining. Nevada is Recommended.