A judge who had taken part in the gold rush of 1849 hires an acting troupe to recreate the experience in this rather fanciful silent Western. The make-believe turns serious when a real gold-mine is discovered nearby and a local girl is kidnapped by a nasty gambler. Written by
Born and bred in the western United States, Joseph Girard (as Judge Brand) has never grown accustomed to life in the industrialized East. Mr. Girard reminisces, to young secretary Leo Pierson (as Tom Reeves), about his life in the old West. In flashback, Girard loses his romantic interest to a pal, who is deserted, after two years, by the woman. Later, Girard moves to the East, to care for his ailing sister.
In the present, Girard discovers the abandoned town of "Nugget Notch"; he wants to rebuild and re-populate the town in the style of his fondly remembered West. Mr. Pierson is assigned the task. Pierson, who shares his older boss' dream, finds a group of down-on-their-luck carnies outside San Diego: the "49 Camp". The '49-ers' western theme is not popular with city folk; and, they accept Pierson's invitation to Nugget Notch. So, Pierson joins the troupe as "Tom Robbins"; his identity is a secret to everyone except leader William J. Dyer (as J. Gordon Castle).
As "Robbins", Pierson falls for pretty Donna Drew (as Peggy Bobbett). But, gentlemanly Jean Hersholt (as Jim Raynor) maneuvers to keep the romance from blooming; he has knowledge about a dark secret from Ms. Drew's past. Distrusting Mr. Hersholt, Pierson writes boss Girard, who prepares his arrival
All of the above happens within the first 25 minutes of "'49-'17"; indeed, it is a densely plotted movie. Don't miss a single title card, or you may be lost. The unusual title refers to the years 1849 and 1917. The year 1849 refers to character Castle's troupe of "'49-ers"; 1849 is the year noted as beginning the "California Gold Rush", which also evokes the spirit of character Judge Brand's western memories. The year 1917 is, of course, the film's release year. The film would have been better off with a title like "Nugget Notch".
Ruth Ann Baldwin is more than serviceable, if less than spectacular, as both writer and director.
****** '49-'17 (10/15/17) Ruth Ann Baldwin ~ Joseph Girard, Leo Pierson, Jean Hersholt
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