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Olivia de Havilland,
If you ignore the sappy narration at the start and finish, it's a much better film.
I rarely say this, but this film would have been much, much better if the very quickly spoken narration at the beginning of the film was removed or done better. In fact, the first time I tried to watch this film, I turned it off due to the horrid introduction. Likewise, the ending narration and its amazing sappiness would also be best if it were removed altogether. These sickeningly preachy bookends to the movie really take what is a decent film and sink it.
The film itself is actually based on real events. It seems that in the 1870s and 80s, hydraulic mining was literally blowing hilltops off in order to extract gold. Using high pressure hoses, the ground was washed away--often flooding the farms in the valleys with sediment or water. For more about this, do a Google search--I found it all moderately interesting. The famous Edwards Woodruff v. North Bloomfield Mining and Gravel Company case decided the legality of a company basically destroying the surrounding area to extract gold or other precious metals.
The first thing that you'll probably notice about the film, other than the horrible opening narration, is the garish color. The print shown on Turner Classic Movies is usually the best available, so I assume no pristine prints survive. Instead, the colors are very gaudy and rather gross. See the film and you'll know what I mean. Despite being made by Warner Brothers, who also made amazingly beautiful color films during this era (such as THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD and THE SEA HAWK), this Technicolor just looks yecchy--probably due to the ravages of time. It could use a restoration to sharpen the picture as well.
The film is made up of two camps--the farmers (represented by Claude Rains and his friends) and the miners (represented by the likes of Sidney Toler). Rains' side is obviously in the right--the miners are creating an environmental disaster area and have no regard for the financial damages they are causing the farmers. However, nice guy George Brent still works for the mine, as he runs one of the three mines in the area. How he is able to justify the mine owners' actions AND try to be friends with Rains and his family (including his practically perfect daughter who any man in the film or audience would adore, Olivia de Havilland) is sure tricky. However, over time, the mine owners' tactics get worse and ultimately it's all heading for a big showdown--either in the courts, in all-out war or both.
The film has a really nice cast--with lots of fine actors. In addition to Rains, Toler, Brent and de Havilland, there is a long list of character actors who make the film worth seeing. George Hayes (in an appearance just before he became known in the credits as "Gabby"), Tim Holt, Henry Davenport, Barton MacLane, Henry O'Neill, Willie Best (in a role that does not cast him as an idiot, thank goodness) and Russell Simpson (among others) may not be household names, but for old movie nuts like myself, they are familiar friends.
Overall, the film is educational and entertaining--but also a bit predictable and formulaic. But, if you can somehow ignore the start and finish, you may find like I did that the film IS worth seeing.
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