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20 Mule Team (1940)

Approved | | Western | 3 May 1940 (USA)
It is 1892 in Death Valley and the yields from the Borax ore are getting so small that refining it is a losing proposition. The only thing that will save the company is a new deposit of ... See full summary »



(story), (story) | 3 more credits »


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Complete credited cast:
Skinner Bill Bragg, an Alias of Ambrose Murphy
Josie Johnson
Jean Johnson
Stag Roper
'Jackass' Brown
Arthur Hohl ...
Henry Adams
Minor Watson ...
Oscar O'Shea ...
Train Conductor


It is 1892 in Death Valley and the yields from the Borax ore are getting so small that refining it is a losing proposition. The only thing that will save the company is a new deposit of high grade Borax, and Bill has a pouch of it that he got from a dead prospector that he buried on the road. Roper knows the value of the strike could be worth millions, but he needs Bill to find the prospectors' claim so they can record it and become rich partners. While Roper has no intention of cutting Bill in on the millions, he also has his eye on young Jean. Josie sees Roper for the scalawag that his is and it means trouble in Furnace Flat. Written by Tony Fontana <tony.fontana@spacebbs.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Roaring ! Out Of Death Valley - the hell-hole of creation comes Beery's greatest hit ! See more »




Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

3 May 1940 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Twenty Mule Team  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System)



Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


This film received its initial television broadcasts in Philadelphia Wednesday 6 March 1957 on WFIL (Channel 6) followed by New York City Friday 29 March 1957 on WCBS (Channel 2) and Los Angeles Sunday 21 April 1957 on KTTV (Channel 11); in San Francisco it was first telecast 7 February 1958 on KGO (Channel 7). See more »


Skinner Bill Bragg: Let's scratch some sand over him and keep the buzzards from picking him to pieces.
Piute Pete: Pretty soon wind comes some more, blow sand off and coyotes dig him up just the same.
Skinner Bill Bragg: Ain't you got no respect? It's the idea of the thing. Now get to scratching.
See more »


Referenced in Northward, Ho! (1940) See more »

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User Reviews

A good late Beery Western
15 September 2000 | by (London) – See all my reviews

If you enjoy the late Beery westerns made for MGM (Bad Bascome, Jack, etc) then this will be a particular pleasure. Mercifully free of the cute moppets that blight some of Beery's other starring vehicles, 20 Mule Team provides excellent entertainment value, as well as surprising quality.

As Beery grew older and took on more westerns, so he came to look much more of a natural western star. His face become more lined and resigned, until by the time of the 40's his exterior (and acting abilities) gave his western roles a weary gravitas - recalling that achieved by a similarly ageing Randolph Scott in his acclaimed cycle of film with director Budd Boetticher a decade or so later (The Tall T, Ride Lonesome etc.)

20 Mule Team must be one of those few westerns which deals with borax transportation and exploitation as a central plot point. But don't let this put you off as, despite a somewhat melodramatic plot (evil stranger preys on local virgin, claim jumpers & etc) the weaknesses are more than offset by the strength of the location cinematography for the exterior scenes, and Beery's presence and range. Here he has the opportunity to display his talent to the utmost, playing by turn a hard nosed villain, sentimental buddy, comic louse and clumsy lover all the while as the camera revels gratefully in his lumbering presence.

Overall the characters in the film are dominated by the stark landscape of desert and rocks which lays outside the Borax mining town ... a contrast of light and shade, black and white, that reflects back in turn the stark moral choices open to the inhabitants.

In the most impressive scene in the film, Beery resigns himself to death in the desert after a shoot out with the villain. His friend (played throughout with characteristic irony by familiar Beery side kick Leo Carrillo) has been mortally wounded, and dies while he watches. Wounded himself, he settles down on his own, into the scorched sand and curses the blasted landscape believing (as we do then) all hope lost. The camera watches Beery, blankly verbally assailing the wilderness condemning him for a long minute, slowly tracking back in a single take. This movement is both beautiful and moving, emphasising the starkness of his fate. Whether intended or not, this powerful scene also recalls the end of Stroheim's Greed, and is an extraordinary moment in a studio product of this sort.

Beery's Westerns are overdue for reassessment.

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