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In 1849, during the California gold rush, prospector Jan Morell and his brother Frank plan to save enough gold in order to buy good farming land in the Napa Valley. One day, while Jan and Frank are prospecting in a nearby river bed, a gang of thugs and claim jumpers led by Jack Welch and Hank Purvis ransack Jan's cabin, steal his gold dust and kill his wife. One of the thugs, Purvis, also takes the cameo brooch Jan gave to his wife. When Jan and Frank return to the cabin and discover the tragedy, Jan swears vengeance. In town, at the local saloon, the killers spend their newly found gold loot at the gambling table. Jan and Frank arrive at the saloon where they start inquiring about the possible whereabouts of the gang who robbed them. The thugs are aware of this and decide to kill the two brothers upon their leaving the saloon. Frank is killed and Jan is wounded but manages to ride away. He is found by Mexican Felipe De Ortega who takes him to his home where his sister Elena nurses ... Written by
Richard Conte who is not quite suited for westerns stars in this tale of old California in between the Gold Rush and its admittance as a state in the union.
When the Gold Rush of 1849 happened California grew exponentially with would be miners seeking wealth and the population overnight qualified it to be admitted to the Union. Of course there was considerable distance between that and the then states. A lot of people took advantage of that to hatch all kinds of nefarious schemes in the film and in real life.
One of those is Morris Ankrum a high toned crook with a beautiful daughter in Barbara Britton who stays blissfully unaware of dad's activities. One of them is claim jumping and one claim he jumps is that of Conte. Both Conte's wife and brother are killed and he goes on the warpath.
I have to say Ankrum dreams big. He wants an independent California country with himself as president for life. Conte throws in with people like Richard Martin and Viveca Lindfors, brother and sister who have been similarly robbed and cheated by Ankrum. They see their salvation as statehood and Conte wants some payback as well.
This was badly photographed and the version I saw was very dark like nearly every sequence took place at night. Richard Conte is way too urban to be a convincing western pioneer.
However the chance to see Richard Martin as someone other than Chito Rafferty might make this film worth a look.
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