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The Painted Desert (1931)

Passed | | Western | 7 March 1931 (USA)
Two men find an abandoned baby and fight over the ownership of the child resulting in lifelong rivalry.


, (uncredited)


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Complete credited cast:
Bill Holbrook (as Bill Boyd)
Mary Ellen Cameron
Cash Holbrook
Jeff Cameron
Rance Brett
Hugh Adams ...
Wade Boteler ...
Will Walling ...
Judge Matthews
Tex (as Guy Edward Hearn)
William Le Maire ...
Denver (as William LeMaire)


Western pardners Jeff and Cash find a baby boy in an otherwise deserted emigrants' camp, and clash over which is to be "father." They are still bitterly feuding years later when they own adjacent ranches. Bill, the foundling whom Cash has raised to young manhood, wants to end the feud and extends an olive branch toward Jeff, who now has a lovely daughter. But during a mining venture, the bitterness escalates. Is Bill to be set against his own adoptive father? Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




Passed | See all certifications »




Release Date:

7 March 1931 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Feindschaft  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (copyright length) | (Turner library print)

Sound Mix:

(RCA Photophone System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The first sound film in which Clark Gable appeared, although his voice was heard in Du Barry, Woman of Passion (1930). See more »


[Cash and Jeff rescue a baby from a deserted wagon]
Cash Holbrook: What have we got that'll feed his gizzard? He can't chaw jerky!
Jeff Cameron: Aw, you don't know nothin'. There's oatmeal gruel and a mite of bacon grease'll see him through.
See more »


Featured in Stars of the Silver Screen: Clark Gable (2011) See more »


Trail to Mexico (Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie)
Traditional ballad
Sung a cappella by Charles Sellon
See more »

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User Reviews

Gable grumbles as the tumbleweeds tumble with Bill Boyd as Gandhi
22 November 2015 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The star of this film is William Boyd, who made a bunch of westerns for Pathe in his time. As a matter of fact, on the opening credits,Clark Gable isn't even listed. Later, when they name the entire cast he is mentioned, but he comes way behind top rated Boyd and even now largely forgotten Helen Twelvetrees.

Two pioneers, Cash Holbrook and Jeff Cameron, are trekking across the desert when they find a deserted encampment with one survivor, a baby boy. The two fight over where to go next. Jeff Cameron wants to stay at the waterhole because "it is a grub stake" - all people driving cattle through will need this waterhole. Cash Holbrook wants to continue on to grazing land so he can raise cattle. He calls Jeff stubborn, and takes the baby too, daring Jeff to shoot because if he does, the baby will fall from Cash's arms and break his neck.

About twenty years pass and Cash has become a wealthy cattleman. Not being ambitious in the old west has cost Jeff. He married, but his wife died in this harsh environment, and all he has left is his daughter, Mary Ellen (Helen Twelvetrees). In all of this time Cash and Jeff have agitated one another - Jeff is still angry at Cash for stealing the baby boy that is now a man, refusing to let Cash's herd use his watering hold for any price and makes him go 27 miles around. One night it is coming to a showdown. Cash is going to stampede his cattle to Jeff's watering hole and show him who is boss. Jeff and his daughter are prepared to shoot it out to stop him. Along comes a stranger - Gable as Rance Brent, and with him instantly taken with Mary Ellen, Rance decides to back them up in the shootout.

Cash's adopted son comes out and stampedes the cattle away from the watering hole to prevent the deadly shootout. Cash is angry, and throws Bill (Bill Boyd) out. Bill went to mining school, discovers tungsten on Jeff's land, and enters into a mining partnership with his dad's sworn enemy.

Now this is where the movie is weird. Bill is acting Gandhi-like saying that he takes neither side, he just wants Cash and Jeff to be friends again and that neither is bad or wrong. I beg to disagree, because to me Cash IS a bad man up to this point. First he uses Bill the infant as a human shield, and when Bill keeps something from escalating into bloodshed, Cash throws that son out of his life.

In the meantime, Jeff and Bill's mine is yielding lots of ore, and out of nowhere - certainly not out of any dialogue that I could perceive - Bill and Mary Ellen are in love. Meanwhile somebody is sniping at the drivers who are taking the ore into town to the railroad, and then some dynamite disappears and the mine is blown to smithereens. Everybody on Jeff's place blames Cash, and it is up to Bill to stop another potential showdown and shootout. I'll let you watch and find out what happens.

This film has absolutely no background music, which was common in early films, and much of the dialogue is very pedestrian. However, it is a good chance to see Gable in his first sound film, and although he hardly utters a word, you can see the beginning of "that Gable style".

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