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"Wicked" Lily Bishop joins a wagon train to California, led by Michael Fabian and Johnnny Trumbo, but news of the Gold Rush scatters the train. When Johnny and Michael finally arrive, Lily is rich from her saloon and storekeeper (former slaver) Pharaoh Coffin is bleeding the miners dry. But worse troubles are ahead: California is inching toward statehood, and certain people want to make it their private empire. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
If back in 1946 when California the movie was made, let alone in the 1840s when California came to the USA via the Mexican Cession, people knew what a sprawling entity California would become, the idea of a separate California country that George Coulouris wanted to have might have been the idea might have been sold. As it is now California has about 9% of the House of Representatives and a population and budget bigger than most countries.
But we're back in the year of 1849 when trail guide Ray Milland is guiding a wagon train to the Pacific, to the newly acquired lands of the Mexican War. He's reluctantly allowed Barbara Stanwyck to travel with Barry Fitzgerald on the train. Stanwyck's been given a heave-ho out of town similar to what Claire Trevor got in Stagecoach. The two of them are mighty attracted to each other, but Milland thinks she's cheap and Stanwyck thinks he's stuck up.
It tears it for Milland when Stanwyck upon reaching California takes up with George Coulouris, a powerful, rich, and mysterious former sea captain who gained his fortune in the slave trade. He's a mean one to cross and his ambitions include nothing less than carving out a separate California Empire with himself as head.
So the political mixes with the personal as Milland fights Coulouris for California and Stanwyck.
California was a big budget item for Paramount that year, the only thing it lacked was Cecil B. DeMille directing it. The film was shot on location in Sedona, Arizona in gorgeous technicolor, courtesy of Ray Rennahan. You have to remember that Milland had won the Best Actor Oscar for The Lost Weekend the previous year and Paramount was now trying to take advantage of that.
Stanwyck loved making westerns and it sure shows here. This was Ray Milland's first starring western, he'd do a few more and not bad ones either. Fitzgerald steals the show of course in every scene he's in as the wise grape grower who sees vineyards in the Napa Valley as part of California's future.
The whole thing is nicely directed by John Farrow. And of course Coulouris will creep you out with his brand of villainy. Catch it when it's broadcast.
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