Brimming with political incorrectness (by today's standards), The Big Gusher (1951) is a pretty entertaining if obviously cheap second feature running little more than an hour. Wayne Morris and Preston Foster star as pair of roughnecks hoping to strike oil while competing for the same blonde (Dorothy Patrick) working to con them out of any black gold they might find. The movie audience doesn't have to look far: the opening titles listing the cast and crew drips with oily black crude.
A Sony Pictures manufactured-on-demand DVD, The Big Gusher is presented in its original full-frame format and in black-and-white. The image appears a little grainier than similar Columbia titles from the early fifties, but it's still okay.
Longtime friends Kenny Blake (Wayne Morris) and Hank Mason (Preston Foster) have saved $4,000 to set up their own oil drilling operation. Hank's worried about Kenny's womanizing while Kenny's worried about Hank's drinking problem, but eventually they decide to let Hank hold their grubstake. At the Black Gold Casino, waitress Betsy Abbott (Dorothy Patrick), spying Hank's bankroll, plies him with drinks and, for a commission, gets Hank to spend most of their dough on a 60-day land lease from oil drilling supplier Jim Tolman (Emmett Vogan).
Hank tries to put a positive spin on the deal, "We got it dirt-cheap!" "Cheap dirt, you mean," replies Kenny.
Further, Kenny and Hank end up in jail after a fierce brawl. In jail they meet veteran driller Cappy Groves (Paul E. Burns). The old-timer believes despite numerous failed attempts in the past that there's oil in them there hills, and is willing to finance the drilling equipment with his own dough. (These scenes resemble a B-movie Treasure of the Sierra Madre.)
In a painful-to-watch sequence, Hank takes Cappy's money into town to rent drilling equipment, and again Betsy gets him drunk. By the time he's sobered up, Hank is dismayed to learn that, while intoxicated, he gambled away all of Cappy's money, borrowed that and more from Betsy, and as a result she owns Hank's one-third interest in the well. Moreover, they're forced to rent vastly inferior drilling equipment from Tolman, equipment chosen to slow the men down so they won't strike oil within the 60-day lease.
Part Treasure of the Sierra Madre, part Thunder Bay but not half as good as either, The Big Gusher amuses with its persistent political incorrectness. The three main characters are an alcoholic, an inveterate, sleazy womanizer who in one scene all but assaults Betsy, and a two-timing broad preying upon a sick man's illness. The movie, mind you, takes none of this seriously, with Betsy changing sides halfway through and the men quickly forgiving Betsy's sins. And Hank's blackouts and general unreliability are treated no more gravely than Smiley Burnette getting conned out of his bankroll for a plate of deep-dish apple pie.
When Betsy joins the drilling site and demands to be treated like a man, Hank and Kenny immediately send her to the bunkhouse to rustle up some grub and clean house. She works as hard as the men but, on her one day off, spends all day at the beauty parlor. One of the few times she's actually on the rig she causes a major accident - all while sweeping up.
Best of all though, in the middle of a big romantic scene, Betsy gazes at the unspoiled horizon, exclaiming, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if someday those hills were covered with a forest of oil derricks?"
Video & Audio
Filmed in 1.37:1 full frame and in black-and-white, The Big Gusher is on the grainy side but still acceptable, with no signs of significant damage, while the mono sound (no other audio options, no subtitles) is fine. The disc is region-free and there are no Extra Features.
Cheap but fun, The Big Gusher is Recommended for fans of offbeat B-pictures.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.