Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lust for Gold

The best new movie I’ve seen in a long time is Columbia's “Lust for Gold” (1949), a really gripping movie that is as much a noir as it is a western, as much a contemporary treasure hunt movie as it is a historical look at the real-life discoverer of the famous Lost Dutchman Mine in Arizona.

You may ask how a 1949 movie could be new. Well, I had never seen it before, so to me it’s a new movie.

The film is a real showcase for stars Glenn Ford and Ida Lupino. Ford has never been one of my favorite actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age. I have nothing against him, and like him in many movies, but he was never the most charismatic of actors.

Still, I think his best performance is as the villain in the riveting “3:10 to Yuma” (1957) and his bad guy turn in “Lust for Gold” runs a close second. Maybe M-G-M and Columbia should have cast him as a villain more often? Yet, he was on the top box office draws of the era, so who can argue with success.

(I understand he plays a psychotic type in another western, “The Man from Colorado” (1948), though I’ve never seen it. That’s another new movie I need to see).

“Lust for Gold” concerns itself with the discovery of the famed Dutchman mine of Arizona. The movie is book ended with scenes set in modern-day Arizona, and young Barry Storm (William Prince) on the lookout for the historic treasure. He hears the story of the treasure from the local sheriff (Paul Ford) and deputy (Will Geer).

The film is based on a book called “Thunder Gods Gold” by Barry Storm. I’ve never read it so I don’t know if Storm was a character in the book.

These opening sequences were so long, I thought the DVD cover art was a mis-representation, and the movie was set in the contemporary west.

But no, we soon get to central portion of the movie, set in 1880, where we meet Jacob “Dutch” Waltz (Glenn Ford) , a down and out immigrant who stumbles across the mine and cold bloodily kills his partner (Edgar Buchanan).

He celebrates his fortune in town and attracts the attention of everyone, including Julia Thomas (Ida Lupino), who runs the bakery. Julia is married to the weakling Pete Thomas (Gig Young).

Dutch won’t tell anyone where the mine is, and only Julia feigns disinterest in the mine. This gets the attention of Dutch, who doesn’t know that Pete is (pardon the language) pimping out his wife to Dutch to learn the whereabouts of the mine.

Julia may wear high-necked blouses and large skirts, but she’s a femme fatale in the best noir tradition. She’s convincing in her love scenes with Dutch and he’s all into her, the poor sap, while in the next scene she’s using her wiles on her husband, telling him he’s only playing with Dutch until he tells her where the mine is. One gets the impression Julia could care less about either of them, and once she gets the loot from the mine, she’ll be out of there faster than the Road Runner.

When Dutch finds out he’s played for a fool, he doesn’t explode, like I expected, but instead decides to tell her where the mine is. And he doesn’t plan to let Julia or Pete leave the mine alive.

Despite the unusual psychological underpinnings of these characters, there are still some good action scenes to satisfy the western fan. There’s a particularly brutal attack by Apaches in an even earlier flashback, with arrows and spears shot with gleeful abandon into the bodies of some ambushed miners. Heck, there’s even an earthquake sequence.

The movie doesn’t end with Dutch and Julia’s story, but continues in the present day, with Barry Storm determined to find the whereabouts of the Dutchman Mine. Someone feels he’s getting a little too close, and tries to kill him. Despite a warning from sheriff, Storm continues the search. The climax is an exciting chase through the rocks and cliff sides between Storm and the killer.

“Lust for Gold” was shot on location in Arizona’s Superstitious Mountains, supposed site of the real Lost Dutchman Mine. Cinematographer Archie Stout does a remarkable job of making the Arizona desert and mountains look beautiful and terrifying, often in the same scene.

Co-screenwriter is Ted Sheredman, best known for his script for “Them!” (1954). I don’t know what it is about the desert, but that milieu was responsible for arguably his best work.

However, the most intriguing name behind the camera is director S. Sylvan Simon, a name familiar to fans of M-G-M musicals and comedies, such as “Whistling in Brooklyn” (1943) and “Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (1945). I’ve always had Simon pegged as a lightweight journeyman director, so I was really surprised at the noir-like nature and duplicitous characters so effectively on display in “Lust for Gold.”

Perhaps he was thrilled to be working with a script that had some real teeth to it and was determined to show what he could bring to the party. Alas, “Lust for Gold” was his last film. He died prematurely in 1951, dead of a heart attack at the age of 41.

There was a recent biography of Glenn Ford which appeared, penned by his son Peter. I have it on reserve from the library, and will be anxious to read about this film. Ford did seem to crave these villainous roles, and when he’s partnered with someone of fierce intelligence like Ida Lupino, the result is first-rate entertainment. I really enjoyed “Lust for Gold.”


KimWilson said...

Kevin, this would be a "new" movie for me, too. I have a better liking of Ford than you do, but I agree that he played a bad guy well. I like just about anything Ida Lupino did, so I'm sure I'd enjoy this. Will look for this on TCM, thanks for the review.

Caftan Woman said...

Glenn, Ida AND Archie Stout? How has this movie passed me by?

You've really captured my attention with this article and given me a New Year's resolution.

PS: Ford is indeed the psycho of psychos in "The Man from Colorado". a riveting performance.

Kevin Deany said...

Kim, I hope you get the chance to see it soon. I was surprised at how much I got caught up in it.

CW, a riveting performance in "The Man from Colorado"? Now I really have to see it. Thanks for the heads up.

Rick29 said...

Kevin, I haven't seen LUST FOR GOLD, but definitely want From reading your review, I would have imagined it was made in the 1950s; it sounds very much like one of the "adult Westerns" made by Anthony Mann et al. The fact that it preceded those films intrigues me to no end. I was never a Glenn Ford fan until recently. He's still not a huge fave, but performances in films like 3:10 TO YUMA. HUMAN DESIRE, and FATE IS THE HUNTER are converting me.

R. D. Finch said...

Kevin, tried to leave a comment earlier, but I guess it didn't take. In any event, you made some succinct observations about a film I've never seen. I'm not a fan of Glenn Ford either, although like everyone else here I do really like him in "3:10 to Yuma." (Didn't find him too convincing in "The Man from Colo.") I've always liked Lupino in her tough dame mode, though, and the supporting cast has some reliable names in it. It's interesting that in the postwar years the influence of film noir extended even to Westerns. I'll keep an eye out for this one.

The Lady Eve said...

Well, Kevin, this is another Western you've featured that I've not only never seen but didn't even know about.

I tend to agree with you about Glenn Ford - much better as a not-so-good guy (I've always liked him in GILDA - his character, though one of the more likable men in the movie, is not exactly a sweetheart). On the other hand, Ida Lupino can do little wrong in my book.

I'll be looking for this one...thanks for sharing another discovery.

Kevin Deany said...

Rick and R.D. I was surprised at the adult content on this film. Put Ford, Lupino and Young in contemporary clothes and have them recite the same dialogue, and you would have had a pretty good film noir.

Eve, I agree about Ford in "Gilda", though I always thought Ford and George Macready showed more interest in each other than in Gilda.

Page said...

I'm such a fan of Ida and I've actually seen this Western. (My dad would be so proud!)

I really liked her in Westerns for some reason as she was a good fit!
Like you, I thought the film would be different than it was.

I haven't seen The Man From Colorado but after you and CW's description I can't wait to check it out!
Another wonderful review, Kevin.
Have a great weekend!

Saddlebackmac said...

In 1985 I traveled the mountains and came perhaps within 100 feet of the possible site when I ran out of water and had to turn back. I marked it with a Japanese sign.