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
The plot of "'49-'17" is as bad as its unfortunate title, and it betrays a poor sense of time. The action takes place primarily in modern times (1917) with flashbacks to the Gold Rush of 1849 (hence the title), with most of the main characters present in both eras. Unfortunately, the main characters (who were already adults in 1849) have only aged about forty years by 1917, whilst Peggy Bobbett (who was only an infant in 1849) looks to be only about twenty years old in 1917.
In 1849, J.R. Brand and his partner Bob Adams went prospecting in California, accompanied by Adams's wife Beatrice and their infant daughter Lorena. But Beatrice died and Lorena Adams disappeared. A few days later, near the mining camp of Nugget Notch, Brand strikes it rich in the goldfields. He feels obligated to share his new fortune with Adams, but is temporarily unable to do so.
Fade in to 1917. Brand has invested his own and Adams's wealth wisely, and he's now a respected retired judge. Nugget Notch is now a ghost town. Brand buys the town and populates it with the cast of a bankrupt wild-west show. Bankrolled by Brand, Nugget Notch is now a tourist attraction, recreating a sanitised version of Gold Rush days. The town attracts the attention of "Gentleman Jim" Raynor, a crooked gambler. (Raynor is played by Jean Hersholt, an actor who is still fondly remembered for his philanthropic activities offscreen, but who usually played slimy villains. In this film he plays one of his slimiest roles.)
Brand hopes to locate Lorena Adams (who must be an adult by now) so that he can give her the fortune which Brand feels belonged to her father. The infant Lorena was found by the homespun couple the Bobbetts, who named her Peggy and raised her as their own child. Peggy Bobbett has no memory of her past life as Lorena Adams. (Why don't they just call her Lorena Bobbett?)
Eventually, Raynor learns the truth about Lorena, and he blackmails the Bobbett family, threatening to expose their daughter Peggy's true identity. (It's not clear why they should seek to conceal this, especially as Lorena Adams is an heiress.) When the blackmail scam fails, Raynor decides to rob the town hall. The film degenerates into incoherent chases and showdowns.
I really wanted to like this film, but it makes no sense and has many lapses in logic ... not least the fact that the characters age inconsistently, and none of them age plausibly. The film looks as if it was shot without a script, and then the dialogue and intertitles were written afterwards in an attempt to create a storyline for the footage. In fact, many silent films (mostly bad ones) were created this way. Thar's not much gold in these hyar hills. Too bad.
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