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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Gold Is Where You Find It (Warner Archive Collection)
Gold Is Where You Find It (Warner Archive Collection)
Warner Archive // Unrated // October 9, 2014
List Price: $21.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted November 2, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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Rather pokey B Western, gussied up into an A-list faux-epic melodrama. Warner Bros.' Archive Collection of hard-to-find cult and library titles has released Gold is Where You Find It, the 1938 drama about the 1870s war in California between hydraulic gold miners and wheat farmers, from Cosmopolitan Pictures and Warners, under their First National division. Directed in three-strip Technicolor by Michael Curtiz, and starring a big cast, including George Brent, Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains (that's supposedly him on that original cover art...not the love child of Bert Lahr and June Allison, as it appears), Margaret Lindsay, Tim Holt, Sidney Toler, John Litel, Barton MacLane, and George "Gabby" Hayes, Gold is Where You Find It spends a lot of time talking about its troubles instead of showing them, while its politics between the haves and the have-mores are as muddy as the slurry in those sluices. An original trailer is included in this just-okay fullscreen color transfer.

The Sacramento Valley of California, 1877. At the mining boom town of Tenspot, Eastern gold mining expert Jared Whitney (George Brent) exits his stagecoach and in the process, trips up rushing youngster, Lance Ferris (Tim Holt), the hot-headed son of the Valley's wealthiest farmer, Colonel Ferris (Claude Rains). When Jared stops drunken Lance from starting a fight in the bar, a grateful Lance takes Jared to his father's palatial estate, where Jared meets Lance's 16-year-old sister, Serena (Olivia de Havilland), a beautiful, spunky little tomboy who's fiercely proud of her own 50-acre apple orchard. The Colonel is polite, but he makes no bones about disapproving of his guest's profession: through Jared's company's destructive hydraulic mining process whereby huge water hoses pulverize the sides of mountains, loosening the gold deposits, the Valley is being flooded with water and mud run-off, utterly destroying the Colonel's and other farmers' land. Jared throws up his hands and says, "Gold is where you find it," and if his company doesn't get it, someone else will--the farmers can't stand in the way of the progress that gold is bringing to the country. The Colonel disagrees, and says the courts will side with the farmers' legal grievances. Difficulties arise for the Colonel, however, when his brother, Ralph (John Litel), decides he wants his land bought out, so he can go to San Francisco and work for his wife Rosanna's (Margaret Lindsay) father: Harrison McCooey (Sidney Toler), the bigwig mining company owner and Jared's boss. When Lance rejects his father's life of farming, too, and when Serena falls in love with opponent Jared, the Colonel's way of life seems to be freefall. However, when a massive flood kills some Valley dwellers, the farmers want blood, which the Colonel forestalls by begging them to wait for the courts to act. Meanwhile, Jared goes to San Francisco to present a plan for a massive dam that will increase the water pressure needed to retrieve more gold, a plan that McCooey supports...so he can secretly take over two adjacent rival mining companies. Jared's dam works--too well--and hydraulic mining triples in output, while the Colonel awaits the outcome of the court case. However, regardless of what the courts decide, McCooey isn't going to stop mining without a fight--and he expects ambivalent Jared to lead that battle against the farmers.

The only connection I have to Gold is Where You Find It (because none of it rang a bell for me as I watched this DVD last night) is that the title was goofed on a couple of times in a few Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes shorts. Considering the movie's massive cost, as well as the top tier talent in front of and behind the camera, one would think Gold is Where You Find It would be better known today. However, I couldn't find any serious discussion of it in any of my references, nor find it listed anywhere as an important title in terms of genre considerations or as being significant in Warners' output at the time, except as a minor historical footnote in its utilization of 3-strip Technicolor (a discussion which is pretty much moot in this review, because of this unrestored DVD transfer). A Cosmopolitan Films production (publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst's movie unit, formerly at M-G-M but at this time aligned with Warner Bros.), Gold is Where You Find It's screenplay was based on Clements Ripley's novel of the same name, which was serialized in Hearst's publications in 1936. Built around historical fact--specifically Edwards Woodruff's successful landmark suit against a mining company--the script was written in 1937 by Warren Duff (Angels with Dirty Faces) and Robert Buckner (Confidential Agent), and put into production by Warner producer Hal B. Wallis as a quasi-test for Technicolor's newly improved 3-strip process, a color process Wallis wanted to try out before committing it to his more valued project, The Adventures of Robin Hood, with Errol Flynn. Warner's top utility players George Brent and Olivia de Havilland were slotted in as the leads, Warner's fast, capable Michael Curtiz (Mystery of the Wax Museum, Captain Blood) was chosen to direct (after others, including Howard Hawks, passed), and production began in August of 1937, with a protracted and thus even more expensive shooting schedule (over two months), due in large part to weather challenges on location in Weaverville, California (just shooting with Technicolor was an expensive-enough challenge, with the heavy, ungainly cameras, the boosted lighting, and the constant attention to costume and set colors necessary to pull off the desired saturated Technicolor effects).

So. All that effort...for a crappy inflated B oater, because that's all Gold is Where You Find It is, once you look past the gilt. Lots of money has been thrown at, from location shooting and the technically complex and expensive color cinematography, to big outdoor sets and some spiffy (if far too brief) special effects--along with some actors who wouldn't normally be caught dead in a B cowboy movie. But if you switch your hydraulic blasting to reverse, and clear away all the movie's surface gloss, a most humble, thoroughly ordinary horse opera lies underneath. Gold is Where You Find It may have a compelling historical incident of farmers battling gold miners underpinning its script, but as it's transformed here, that story becomes just another Western battle between settlers and Indians, or sheep herders versus ranchers, or settlers versus cattle ranchers, or take your pick versus fill in the blank. The dynamics here, regardless of the historical context, are indistinguishable from countless other oaters. Had Gold is Where You Find It actually been a B Western, its makers wouldn't have had the luxury of spending a seemingly endless 94 minutes here dragging out a conflict that any budget-minded B scripter and director could have dealt with in a few scenes...with plenty of gunplay and horse riding left over for the ticket buyers.

Here, it takes forever for the battle lines between the farmers and the miners to be drawn, with one talky dialogue scene following another as we wait in vain for the movie to kick into gear (and you'll get no help, either, from the perfunctory, predictable Romeo and Juliet loves scenes between George Brent and Olivia de Havilland, or the potentially enticing and then weirdly abandoned subplot of married Margaret Lindsay panting and heaving after Brent...before it "poof" disappears). Director Curtiz, who was once quoted describing his style of action-oriented moviemaking as, "Who cares about character? I make it go so fast nobody notices," apparently forgot that principle this time out. By the time the build-up to the final (and in fact only) confrontation between the two warring sides is finally over, the resolution is presented and folded back up far too quickly to justify the tease (Curtiz can't even manage to make the mining sequences interesting; with their seemingly fool-proof visual potential, his few ungainly shots of the water hoses in action--maybe some second unit director screwed them up?--convey none of the power or destruction of that particular mining process. Or the excitement).

As for discovering something interesting in Gold is Where You Find It's ideas...you'll have better luck finding gold dust in your sno-cone. Claude Rains' farmer character is improbably presented as some sort of beleaguered populist hero, misguided in his stern approach to his children, but noble in invoking God ("The Lord don't let you stand up on a mountain and fling mud in the face of a man below,") and the Constitution in his fight against the evil, greedy, "highwaymen" mine owners--a fight made worthwhile since Rains' efforts feed a hungry nation (Curtiz gives us a brief Sovietized wheat-harvesting montage that plays like a proletarian wet dream). Yet anyone who knows their Westerns will see that Rains, in any other oater, could just as easily have been the villain of the piece. Resistant to change (he doesn't like young Americans getting too educated) and to the country expanding, Rains' goals seem more about maintaining his own status quo...which is very nice, indeed. de Havilland defends her father at one point, saying he merely wants the land, while the mine owners want gold, which of course is hilarious since, by the look of that Gone With the Wind Tara-worthy mansion and those fancy duds, that mere land is doing mighty nice by him (check out the flimsy farmer shack of Rains' neighbor and "equal," the one that pushes over and squishes the poor guy's wife and kid). In any other Western, imperious Rains would be the all-controlling major land owner who lorded his wishes over the poor slobs eking out their living on his leftovers. The only thing left for the writers to do is stack the deck against Rains to make him look good; for instance, casually murderous Sidney Toler's mine owner is shown cackling with glee as he manipulates the stock exchange--an image that would have resonated far more strongly than Rains' troublesome weak spots, with those Depression-era viewers (the movie never can make up its mind if wheat really outweighs gold...but those mine owner lawyers make a good case for the gilt).

As for our real hero, George Brent, the writers never bother to make up their minds what makes him tick, either. He's let off the hook completely when it comes to the various storyline conflicts. Brent is introduced as a "regular guy" who's smart enough to build a dam and fix those water hoses, tough enough to knock out Barton MacLane, and suave enough to romance Olivia de Havilland...but he's never pinned down about how he feels about his job impacting the poor farmers. His character is incredibly sanguine about the whole affair, offering up even-steven nothings like, "We're not looking to start trouble, but we won't run from it, either," while drifting through the story on his faintly-interested good manners. He's absolved of any harmful intent by being just a "good employee" (solidified when Toler dupes him over the dam), but that doesn't explain his denseness right from the start: he has to know-as we obviously do--that the better job he does with the hydraulic mining, the more farmers will get killed. Picking George Brent for this ghostly, vague character doesn't exactly help, either. It's often been said that Brent was one of the favorite leading men of many of Hollywood's heavy-hitting actresses, and I understand that completely: he's absolutely no threat to them. He's weirdly anonymous on the screen: handsome, debonair, well-spoken...and all of it to no discernible effect. He always looks as if he's just been pleasantly roused from a sensible nap. Looking vaguely uncomfortable in his period Western duds, he sure ain't no Errol Flynn here, particularly when Curtiz finally swings into action with the movie's explosive climax, as Brent carefully executes a few moves before the doubles take over, and SPOILER ALERT! the dam is blown (this has to be the lamebrained-est cinematic solution you ever saw: sure the mines were smashed to bits by the released torrent, but where did Brent think all that water and deadly debris would finally wind up? You guessed it...but the scene simply cheats to a fade-out, before the entire Valley--with all those ill-dressed farmers--is inconveniently wiped off the map). That smash-up is a classic case of far too little, far too late...for a pumped-up oater that's far too little in every big way.

The Video:
The fullscreen, 1.37:1 color transfer of Gold is Where You Find It is what you'd expect from unrestored Technicolor elements: just okay color (nothing really pops), sometimes out of register, with a softish image.

The Audio:
The Dolby Digital English mono audio track is fine, with low hiss. No subtitles or closed-captions.

The Extras:
There's an original trailer for Gold is Where You Find It included.

Final Thoughts:
Boredom is What You Get. You can pump it up all you want, but the core of Gold is Where You Find It is a B Western...and not even a well-done one, at that. You can skip Gold is Where You Find It.

Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

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