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Lust for Gold
Following a letter from the Governor of Arizona swearing Lust for Gold is based on "the true facts" of the Lost Dutchman tale, the film opens with modern day fortune hunter Barry Storm (William Prince) providing an especially purple and long-winded narration, about the area, which he describes as "Satan's private art gallery," in this self-described "biography of a death trap."
Storm has been poking around the Superstition Mountains, some 30 miles northeast of Phoenix, in search of the Lost Dutchman mine, named after his grandfather, immigrant Jacob Walz, who is said to have found the lost Spanish fortune. Hoping to lay some legal claim on any rediscovery, Storm follows researcher Floyd Buckley (Hayden Rorke) into the mountains, but after Buckley is shot dead suspicion naturally falls on Storm. The local sheriff (Paul Ford) orders deputies Covin (Will Geer) and Walter (Jay Silverheels) to accompany Storm back into the mountain, to retrace his steps.** There, Covin points to strange, undecipherable Spanish markings and other clues to the treasure. Further intrigued, Storm's own investigation leads him to an old folks home, where its eldest residents, only children when Walz was alive, recall what happened nearly 70 years before.
Walz (Glenn Ford) is remembered as a cruel, anti-social immigrant - a German everyone assumes to be Dutch. Walz and Wiser (Edgar Buchanan) follow Spaniard Ramon (Antonio Moreno) and partner Ludi (Arthur Hunnicutt) into the mountains, and Walz shoots all three dead when the treasure is unearthed. Returning to town with hundreds of pounds of gold but unwilling to file a claim, Walz is hounded by everyone in town to reveal the location of the "vein." He eventually falls in with crafty Julia (top-billed Ida Lupino, who doesn't appear onscreen until 30 minutes into the 90-minute film). She plays right into his hands, praying on his loneliness and isolation by pretending to be the innocent daughter of German immigrants, but she's after his gold like everyone else, and is even married to a shady character (Gig Young) she controls through blackmail. Soon everyone in town realizes Walz is being played for a chump. Will he discover the deception? Will Storm find the lost gold?
Adapted by Ted Sherdeman and Richard English from the real Barry Storm's book, Thunder God's Gold, Lust for Gold is outlandish but almost irresistibly entertaining. The modern segments that bookend the film and in the end account for almost half its running time, is a murder mystery with ancient, exotic clues straight out of H. Rider Haggard. The interior tale involving Walz, Julia, and husband Pete is more conventional, but the ruthlessness of Walz is taken to extremes that are surprising by 1949 movie standards, especially in its willingness to make likeable Glenn Ford so thoroughly reprehensible if somewhat sympathetic. The resolution, though absurdly providential, is still fairly shocking.
Despite its overdone narration, the modern segments work quite well, too. Partly this is due to the fine supporting cast, including Geer, before he was blacklisted; Silverheels, before he was Tonto; and Ford, before he became Sgt. Bilko's C.O.
Lust for Gold was the last film directed by S. Sylvan Simon, though he'd produce a handful of pictures before his untimely death in 1951. He keeps things moving at a fast clip with enough material here, including several outstanding fight sequences, for several films; one suspects it probably made a lot of money for Columbia when it was new.
Video & Audio
Lust for Gold is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio, in a solid transfer with good grain, deep blacks, and a respectable amount of age-related wear. This bare bones release offers only English and Japanese subtitle options. There are no Extra Features at all.
Parting Thoughts (and mild spoilers)
The picture ends with its narrator inviting viewers to try and find the "Lost Dutchman Mine" themselves. In 2005, some 56 years after Lust for Gold's release, the fate of the lost gold remains a mystery. Though hardly in a league with Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Lust for Gold's similar rumination on the nature of greed makes for an unusual, entertaining Western.
**As one reader helpfully points out, it's appropriate that Silverheels is in the movie as "the Superstitions are located in the Tonto National Forest, which is a forest of saguaro and other cactus."
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. His new book, Cinema Nippon will be published by Taschen in 2005.