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Although it was one of the biggest epic movies Warner Brothers produced at the time, Gold Is Where You Find It (1938) is little remembered today, but with a top director, an excellent cast and beautiful color, it is a find worth digging up.
Warner Brothers' second movie to be shot in the new, more lifelike process of three-strip Technicolor, Gold Is Where You Find It tells the true story of the battle between gold miners and farmers in Northern California during the 1870's. George Brent stars as a mining engineer who falls in love with a farmer's daughter (Olivia de Havilland). Claude Rains is her father who disapproves of miners and forbids Brent from courting her.
The romantic story, however, is quite secondary to the true and very realistically presented story of the ravages caused by the gold mining industry of that time. The original gold rush of the late 1840's was long over and the lone prospector with his pan had been replaced by high-pressure water hoses, called "monitors," that ripped the sides off mountains to uncover the ore. Sluices pulled the gold out of the water. The silt and dirt loosened from the mountains ran off into local rivers and streams.
The devastation from all that runoff caused an ecological catastrophe that has left the region damaged to this day. The amount of dirt that flowed downstream over a twenty-year period was the equivalent of several times the amount moved to create the Panama Canal. Farmlands were flooded, rivers were made unnavigable and all the trout and salmon in the streams of the Sierra Mountains were killed. The farmers whose land had been ruined fought back with state and federal lawsuits.
Oddly enough, Gold Is Where You Find It and the story on which it is based were connected to someone whose fortune originated in mines. Newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst ran the magazine, The Cosmopolitan, which first published the Clements Ripley story and his movie company, Cosmopolitan Productions, co-produced the movie with Warner Brothers through their First National Pictures division. Hearst's wealth came from his father's mining interests; mines that were not the ones depicted in the movie. Nevertheless, Hearst's father, Senator George Hearst, is introduced as a character in the film. "Willie wants to be a journalist," Senator Hearst announces during his brief appearance.
When Gold Is Where You Find It was released, Hearst was a very controversial figure and Senator Hearst's announcement about his son was greeted with boos in some theaters. The movie, with its hero farmers, may have been an attempt by Hearst to alleviate his image after The Farmer Labor Progressive Federation declared him to be "Labor's Enemy No. 1" in 1936. A sly dig at another Hearst enemy comes in one of the character names. Barton MacLane's villain is listed as "Slag Martin" in the credits, but is addressed as "Minton" in the film. Minton was, by coincidence, the name of a Senator who denounced Hearst on the floor of Congress in 1936.
Gold Is Where You Find It was already set to become an expensive film since it was shot with the pricey new Technicolor stock. Costs were driven up further when rains drenched the location shooting in the Weaverville, California area. Nevertheless, the movie ultimately made a profit of $240,000 and director Michael Curtiz's felicity with the Technicolor camera led Warner Brothers to put him in the director's chair in place of William Keighley for their next Technicolor extravaganza, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Although that film remains the more famous of the two, Gold Is Where You Find It is a beautiful and sometimes exciting early color movie that presents a more accurate portrait of historical events.
Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Warren Duff, Robert Buckner based on the story by Clements Ripley
Cinematography: Sol Polito
Music: Max Steiner
Editing: Clarence Kolster
Art Direction: Ted Smith
Cast: George Brent (Jared Whitney), Olivia de Havilland (Serena Ferris), Claude Rains (Colonel Christopher Ferris), Barton MacLane (Foreman Slag Minton), Tim Holt (Lanceford Ferris), Sidney Toler (Harrison McCooey).
by Brian Cady