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Lust for Gold

Lust for Gold(1949)

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teaser Lust for Gold (1949)

Ida Lupino once quipped that she was the poor man's Bette Davis, referring to her second-string position below the queen of the Warner Brothers lot when Lupino was also under contract there in the 1940s. But in Lust for Gold (1949), made at Columbia after she left Warners, she plays a role much closer to the type for which Barbara Stanwyck was known, that of a dominating and none too honest woman, ambitious and willing to do anything to get what she wants, in this case gold and a lot of it.

The story is based on an actual legend; that of the Lost Dutchman Mine, believed to be located somewhere near the aptly named Superstition Mountain east of Phoenix, Arizona. According to lore, the rich vein of gold was known to the Apache for many years, who refused to touch it for fear of the gods who guarded it. The first person to allegedly work the mine was a wealthy rancher named Peralta who, along with his workers, was massacred by the Indians. This part of the legend is the rough basis for one section of this multi-part movie (covering three different time periods).

The bulk of the film follows the exploits of Jacob Walz, a German (mislabeled "Dutchman") prospector who, along with another German named Jacob Weiser or Wisner, either killed some Mexican miners who had stumbled upon the site or saved the life of a Peralta descendant who gave them directions to the mine as a reward, according to the legend. Along the way, Weiser was killed either by Indians or Walz himself. In any case, it was said that Walz kept the location secret, disappearing to harvest his riches, then reappearing in Phoenix with more gold. Years later, a widow named Julia Thomas befriended (and perhaps became romantically involved with) the aged Walz, who promised to take her to his mine but died before he could do that. Since then, many have gone in search of the legendary lode without luck, and stories of mysterious and violent deaths have become a staple of the myth.

In the main part of this story, Glenn Ford plays Walz and Edgar Buchanan is a character named Wiser, based on the other Jacob. Lupino is Julia Thomas, but instead of a kindly widow, she is depicted as a greedy, scheming woman who pushes her weak-willed husband (Gig Young) into a quest for the gold, even while she carries on an ill-conceived liaison with Walz. Needless to say, in keeping with the legend, things end badly for all concerned. In a modern-day framing story, Walz's grandson is seen contending with a crooked deputy sheriff (Will Geer) in searching for the lost gold. The grandson bears the name Barry Storm, the author of the book on which the film is based.

Lust for Gold has a prologue attesting to the "true facts" represented in the story, "as substantiated by historical records and legends," signed by the governor of Arizona. At the end of the movie, viewers are teased with the possibility that $20 million dollars (in 1949 money) is still out there for the taking. Over the years, many have tried to locate the mine, some meeting strange and tragic results, while others have made bogus claims of finding it. Yet the legend lives on.

Although a relatively minor role for her, Lupino was reportedly very engaged during production, remaining on the set even when she wasn't filming, closely watching director and technicians at work. Right around this time, she met Italian director Roberto Rossellini, one of the major forces in the neorealist style coming from his country after World War II. Rossellini expressed to her his criticisms of Hollywood product and asked, "When are you [meaning the American film industry] going to make pictures about ordinary people in ordinary situations?" The conversation apparently had an impact on the actress; the same year as Lust for Gold's release, she took over for ailing director Elmer Clifton on a script she had co-written and co-produced, Not Wanted (1949), a low-budget melodrama that launched her new career as the most successful and prolific female director of her era, and a purveyor of gritty, unglamorous melodramas.

Several players in the cast of Lust for Gold will be familiar to audiences from other work. Gig Young was a popular leading man and supporting player for several decades and an Oscar® winner for his work in the Depression-era drama They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969). Jay Silverheels went on to play the Lone Ranger's faithful companion Tonto on TV in the 50s. The grizzled character actor Edgar Buchanan was in well over 100 movies and TV shows, and played old Uncle Joe in the hit 60s sitcom Petticoat Junction. Not long after this release, Will Geer became a victim of the Hollywood blacklist, emerging years later as Grandpa on the bucolic TV series The Waltons. In an uncredited part as Peralta is Antonio Moreno, a major leading man in the silent age opposite such screen sirens as Pola Negri, Gloria Swanson and Greta Garbo. Moreno was one of four Hollywood denizens (the others being Clara Bow, Rex the Wild Stallion, and the doorman at the Ambassador Hotel) famously said by scandalous author Elinor Glyn to have "It," Glyn's euphemism for sexual appeal. Not so coincidentally, Moreno co-starred with Bow (though not the other two) in the 1927 screen adaptation of Glyn's book, It.

Veteran cinematographer Archie Stout had shot countless Westerns prior to this, including John Ford's Fort Apache (1948). He later shot three movies directed by Lupino and won an Academy Award for his work on Ford's The Quiet Man (1952).

Director: S. Sylvan Simon
Producer: S. Sylvan Simon
Screenplay: Ted Sherdeman, Richard English, based on the book Thunder God's Gold by Barry Storm
Cinematography: Archie Stout
Editing: Gene Havlick
Art Direction: Carl Anderson
Original Music: George Duning
Cast: Glenn Ford (Jacob Walz), Ida Lupino (Julia Thomas), Gig Young (Pete Thomas), William Prince (Barry Storm), Paul Ford (Sheriff Lynn Early).
BW-90m.

by Rob Nixon

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