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The California Gold Rush of 1848-1855 changed the shape and the fortune of North America's western coast, making a hub of the port city of San Francisco and ensuring statehood by 1850. The founding of Wells Fargo in 1852 and the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883 gave rise to endless speculation, investment, and entrepreneurship inside the Golden Gate, providing Hollywood with a steady supply of rags to riches sagas. Howard Hawks' Barbary Coast (1935) with Edward G. Robinson, Lloyd Bacon's Frisco Kid (1935) with James Cagney, and Raoul Walsh's Gentleman Jim (1942) with Errol Flynn all purported to expose the brutality behind the dazzle of San Francisco's red light district, where saloons, casinos and brothels satisfied a public appetite for recreation and release. That cinematic tradition was continued by Gerald Mayer's Inside Straight (1951). Starring Joan Crawford-discovery David Brian as the aptly-named profiteer Rip MacCool, the son of 49ers whose deaths from cholera forced their only son to claw his way to the top of society in a ravening fit of bastardy, this MGM release is told in flashback fashion from the lips of Oscar winner Mercedes McCambridge (in her second film), Barry Sullivan and Lon Chaney, Jr. as MacCool's loyal Serbian buddy Shocker. Look fast for a pre-Leave It to Beaver Barbara Billingsley and for Frankenstein's Mae Clark in an unbilled cameo.
By Richard Harland Smith