Flowing Gold (1940)
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Sure, this movie has been done in many guises before. But how many remember the others? Why do we continue to watch a movie when we know precisely how it's going to end? Something else has to string you in. It has to be something you've never seen before and yet seems so familiar that you can't help but see it anyway.
I say: How many will remember what John Garfield could add - in bushels - to any simply wrought movie? Why, his charm and rough exterior could convince a lamb to go to slaughter.
Enough cannot be said about "Jules" as they used to call him. One in a million, they say. I'll say that to the Nth degree until they beat me down. No actor could relate to the common man like he did. Others were prettier, more dashing, taller or a dozen other things.
But no one, ever again, will be a John Garfield.
Charismatic bug-eyed character actor Ramond Walburn plays Frances's father, who owns the lease on the land being drilled. Along with Cliff Edwards and Tom Kennedy, he provides occasional comic relief. Raymond somewhat reminds me of Frank Morgan, who has a somewhat similar role in the first part of "Boomtown". I haven't seen other Frances Farmer films, but here she impresses me as a Tuesday Weld of her generation. ..Hap is in an ambiguous situation, wanting to protect Johnny, but concerned about the prospects for Frances as Johnny's girlfriend. Hap also has the hots for Frances's character, but is willing to step aside if she really is committed to Johnny and if he thinks Johnny might have a future outside of prison.
Both "Boomtown" and this film give the (no doubt correct) impression that main streets in frontier towns of this era often turned into a sea of mud. Thus, in "Boomtown", Gable and Tracy initially meet going in opposite directions on a narrow plank bridging a particularly deep muddy stretch on Main Street. In the present film, Garfield's and Farmer's characters initially meet when he is mocking her hopeless efforts to extract her car from a deeply muddy stretch of Main Street.
The film begins with Garfield looking for a job in the oil fields. However, he has a secret--he's a wanted man. Despite this, O'Brien is impressed with Garfield and feels he's an honest man, so he decides to give Garfield a break.
Later, Frances Langford comes along and takes an instant dislike for Garfield. If you are familiar with films of this era, this can only mean one thing--they'll be head over heels in love by the end of the movie! The problem is that O'Brien as well is interested in Langford--creating a dilemma. Will Garfield stab his buddy in the back to get the girl or will O'Brien be a regular guy and step aside? It's all predictable but fun--the sort of film which Warner Brothers did so well. Light fluff, of course, but enjoyable fluff.
So of the two films, which is worth seeing? Well, I'd say it was a toss-up--both are about equally good (but far from great), though BOOM TOWN might be a tiny bit better. Of course, I might just feel this way because Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert were in this film--two of my all-time favorites.
Two-fisted action film with a generous helping of pretty good comedy relief. Okay, you've probably seen it all before and can tick off the romantic subplot by the numbers. Still, it's hard not to watch since the action is so well done. Warner Bros. in particular recycled the plot in the following year's Manpower (1941). Nonethrless, the premise of good buddies falling for the same girl has built-in appeal that's hard to resist. Garfield and O'Brien do their macho thing as oil field roughnecks, while Frances Farmer of the perpetual-lovely-smile proves she's a true Hollywood rebel by refusing to pluck her eyebrows.
And get a load of that roaring, nightmare river, not a place to drop a fishing line unless you're angling for the Loch Ness monster. Heck, the riverside road doesn't even have a guard railno wonder the crane driver wants to bail. Studio special effects really did a great visual job with that one. In fact, the movie manages the look and feel of a real oil field minus the usual process shots, at least that I could spot. I guess that says something for the often overlooked role of producer, in this case the big enchilada himself, Jack Warner.
And get a load too of Jodie Gilbert as Tillie the man-eating barber or is it barberess. Either way, she'll make you rethink women as the weaker sex. If I were husband Cliff Edwards, I'd be hiring a bodyguard fast. Anyhow it's a colorful and amusing supporting cast, none of which to take seriously, much like the movie itself. The 80-minutes may not be Oscar bait, but the sum-total again shows how old Hollywood with all its flaws could still turn out good lively entertainment.
Instead we get O'Brien, nearing the end of his Warners career with John Garfield who was just becoming one of the Studios biggest Stars, along with Francis Farmer as the love interest. It seems no one is willing to be critical of Farmer because of the tragic occurrences of her off-screen life, but I just plain don't care for her in this, partially because the Director gives her a hollow role and partially because she has zero chemistry with Garfield. In one rather unfortunate scene she and Garfield are riding in an open car and it is painfully clear that she is taller than Garfield...it looks like he needs a booster seat!
Having said all that, it is a good if formulaic A-, it's pure Warner's from beginning to end, has a great supporting cast and it's great fun to watch. A good solid 6 and for Warner's fans an 8. But you can't but wonder what Cagney would have made it.
It's a rough life, filled with dangers and hardships, but the crew's camaraderie keeps the film light. The requisite love story, which fizzles more than sizzles, also provides some relief from the gritty drama of the drill.
John Garfield plays the lead--a guy always on the run from the authorities, who is wanted for murder in another state. He's a tough guy with a chip on his shoulder who, maybe, just needs someone to believe in him.
Not much new ground is covered here. And most of the action is predictable. The cast does about as much as it can with the script they are given.
Probably they knew each other from the Group Theater but great drama this sure is not.
Garfield died tragically young. Farmer's career, as has been well documented, was cut very short by her mother's intervention and her horrifying lobotomy.
What a shame that one of the very few Farmer movies still shown and one of maybe ten or 15 with Garfield has to be something so dull and routine as this.
O'Brien and Garfield are working for oil wildcatter Raymond Walburn who is modeled on Frank Morgan's role in MGM's Boom Town. He's got a sure thing oil lease, but Walburn's rival Granville Bates fights him at every turn. It's not clear just why Bates has it in for Walburn, but suffice to say he does.
Ray also has a beautiful daughter in Frances Farmer who Garfield is panting after. But Garfield also is a fugitive on a murder rap and he's got to be discreet in many ways, which is definitely not his style.
Now if you don't think the guys are going to bring the big gusher in on time you haven't seen too many films like these.
Garfield and Farmer have a reunion of sorts here, they both were members in good standing of the Group Theater in New York. Farmer had a torrid affair with Clifford Odets who wrote Golden Boy where Garfield scored his first big success on stage. Over there they did work of great social significance which Flowing Gold will never be characterized as.
Several reviewers and the Citadel film series book, The Films Of John Garfield all say that Flowing Gold was Warner Brothers hurried answer to Boom Town which was given the MGM full star treatment and budget. There certainly are similarities, but Boom Town if you watch it is an ode to unbridled capitalism, it's one of the most rightwing films ever made in Hollywood. We see the stars Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert, and Hedy Lamarr moving the world of high finance and oil politics as well as getting down and dirty in the oil fields. True to Warner Brothers reputation as the working class studio, Flowing Gold has no such pretensions.
Flowing Gold is your routine action programmer the kind Warner Brothers just grinded out by the dozen at that time. All the stars do well here, though Garfield and Farmer would have wished for something better.