A mining engineer, caught between a mighty gold syndicate and a group of stubborn ranchers, learns that GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT when he meets the beautiful daughter of a powerful landowner.
Warner Brothers had great hopes for this lavish Western, and the money that was spent certainly shows up on the screen. Unfortunately, the romantic attraction between stars George Brent & Olivia de Havilland never catches fire. This is largely the fault of the script, which seems strangely aloof from their involvement and makes their love scenes rather pedestrian. Alas, real life can be much the same way...
In this case it is important to look at what strengths the film possesses. Chief among these is master actor Claude Rains, in a suave performance as Olivia's determined, courageous father. With his rich, silken voice, he could have simply read the script directly into the camera and made it compelling. Always a treat to watch & listen to, the movie is fortunate to have him.
Good support is given by young Tim Holt as Rains' amiable, tragic son; Harry Davenport as a friendly old doctor; Gabby Hayes & Willie Best as employees of Rains; and Sidney Toler & Barton MacLane as the murderous syndicate president and mine foreman.
The Technicolor photography - still rare & wonderful in 1938 - is pleasant on the eyes. The massed attack on the mine is well handled & exciting.
Viewers of the film are likely to hear more about hydraulic gold mining than they ever knew before. Indeed, the environmental problems which the film depicts, with the immense runoff fouling the downstream waters & farmlands, are quite accurately depicted.
The Golden Moon Mine in the movie could have easily been based, in part, on the great Cherokee Mine in Northern California's Butte County. Located at the base of Table Mountain, between the towns of Chico & Oroville, the Cherokee Mine attracted Argonauts from around the world (as its cemetery still attests) and became the largest hydraulic mining enterprise on earth. Nearby Butte Creek was dammed to provide a 300 acre supply of water for the Mine (three smaller reservoirs were also created). Over 100 miles of conveyance were constructed to move the water to the Mine, where each day forty million gallons were needed for the eighteen immense monitors which directed their gush at the side of the Mountain. Sluices nine miles in length were ready to catch the particles of gold washed down from the bluff. In its few years of operation - 1880 until 1887 - two and a half million dollars worth of gold was found, as well as small amounts of platinum, topaz and even diamonds. Eventually the gold played out and the Mine was no longer cost effective to remain open. To this day, the scars still remain on the side of Table Mountain as mute witness to one of the engineering marvels of the 19th Century.
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