The Painted Desert
Cast & Crew
J. Farrell Macdonald
While traveling West to seek their fortunes, Cash Holbrook and Jeff Cameron stop at a watering hole in Arizona's Painted Desert and discover an infant boy in a ravaged covered wagon. The two men remain at the watering hole with the boy, whom Cash has named Bill and Jeff calls Dan, until Cash, anxious to claim grazing land, insists on leaving. When Jeff angrily refuses to move, Cash grabs the baby and rides away with him. Many years later, a still vindictive Jeff, who has converted the land around the watering hole into a small cattle ranch, and his grown daughter Mary Ellen stand ready to prevent Cash, a neighboring rancher, from bringing his cattle to their water. As they wait for Cash, Rance Brett, a cowboy from Montana, rides up to the hole and, taken by Mary Ellen's beauty, offers to help them deflect Cash's cattle. Before the two cattlemen confront each other, however, a third party causes both men's cattle to stampede. Later, after he confesses to Cash that he had caused the stampede, the now grown Bill begs his father to join with Jeff to mine the tungsten ore that he has discovered on the Cameron property. Cash, however, hotly refuses to consider the idea and orders Bill out of the house. The next day Bill shows up at the Cameron's ranch and convinces Jeff to pursue his mining scheme. After Mary Ellen hears about Bill's proposal, she warms instantly to him, causing Brett to stew with jealousy. Bill and Jeff build the mine and extract enough ore to meet the first payment date on their bank loan. As they are moving the ore to town, however, one of the wagons is ambushed by unseen attackers, and the shipment is destroyed. Bill, working furiously with his miners, is able to deliver another load of ore in time to meet the deadline, and then proposes to Mary Ellen, who has moved to town to attend school, that they marry at four o'clock that afternoon. While Bill celebrates his victory in town, a series of deliberately set explosions destroys the mine. On Jeff's orders, Brett rides to inform Bill of the disaster and, in front of Bill, accuses Cash of the deed. After Cash opens his bank account to Bill as a show of good faith, Bill signs half of his share of the mine over to his father. As Brett listens, Cash then gleefully informs his banker that, with Bill's share, he can now use Jeff's watering hole. When Jeff hears, through Brett, about Cash's plans, he rushes to town to confront him at gunpoint. Bill, however, forces Brett to confess that he had sabotaged the mine out of jealousy, and then prevents Cash and Jeff from shooting each other in a showdown. With his "fathers" re-united at last, Bill embraces his bride-to-be.
J. Farrell Macdonald
Guy Edward Hearn
Al St. John
E. B. Derr
C. E. Sullivan
Earl A. Wolcott
The Painted Desert (1931)
The other myth is that when Gable's agent at the time, Minna Wallis (sister of producer Hal Wallis), got Gable the job as the villain in The Painted Desert, she neglected to tell the producer that Gable could not ride a horse. Gable had ridden horses since his boyhood. Nevertheless, he did go out to Griffith Park for four weeks training in stunt riding with an old, one-eyed stuntman, preparing for whatever action the director had in mind.
He needn't have bothered. This was still that period of early talkies when speech was deemed far more important than visuals and the script by director Howard Higgin and co-author Tom Buckingham gave Gable and the rest of the cast ample opportunity to exercise their vocal chords. The plot had William Boyd as a foundling that sparked a decades-long feud between two cowboys. He comes back from the East to settle the feud but romantic rival Clark Gable tries every dirty trick he can think of to keep the feud going.
William Boyd is, of course, the actor that would later gain a permanent place in the saddle as Hop-Along Cassidy. At the time he was a dependable character actor having come to Pathé Pictures after it purchased Cecil B. DeMille's independent outfit. Pathé, which had been around since the Pathé Brothers introduced cinema to France in 1896, was at the time being absorbed into the new RKO Radio Pictures conglomerate. Boyd would be laid off two years later, floundering until he discovered his white-hatted alter ego.
The love interest, Helen Twelvetrees, was a popular actress in 1931 although she was better known for her performances in "fallen women" pictures. When the vogue for those movies passed, so did Twelvetrees' career. She, too, was laid off in 1936 and never returned to movies and is, unfortunately, best known for a Johnny Carson gag ("Who was Rin Tin Tin's favorite actress?")
William Farnum, who plays Cash Holbrook, one of the feuding cowboys, was another huge star at one point in Hollywood history, having starred in one of the earliest and most popular Westerns, the 1914 version of The Spoilers. His days as a lead cowboy ended after he was seriously injured during the making of The Man Who Fights Alone (1924). He came back four years later, but only as a character actor, working on until his death in 1953.
The Painted Desert was shot on location in Arizona although Edward Snyder's black-and-white photography wasn't able to effectively exploit the colorful landscape. RKO released the movie and did well enough with it to revive the story in 1938 for a George O'Brien programmer. Unfortunately there are reports that during the making of that film, scenes were chopped out of the 1931 movie's original negative for use as action shots, which probably accounts for existing prints of the The Painted Desert running four minutes shorter than the original stated running time.
Gable, having gained exposure, snagged a contract with MGM, becoming a huge star later that year in the racy pre-Code Norma Shearer movie A Free Soul (1931). He forgot all about this entry into talking pictures probably never knowing how close he had come to working with someone with whom he would later become intimately involved. Immediately before making The Painted Desert, the director and co-screenwriter had just completed a series of films featuring the young actress, Carole Lombard.
Director: Howard Higgin
Producer: E.B. Derr
Writers: Howard Higgin, Tom Buckingham
Cinematographer: Edward Snyder
Editor: Clarence Kolster
Art Designer: Carroll Clark
Cast: William Boyd (Bill Holbrook), Helen Twelvetrees (Mary Ellen Cameron), William Farnum (Cash Holbrook), J. Farrell MacDonald (Jeff Cameron), Clark Gable (Rance Brett), Charles Sellon (Tonopah).
by Brian Cady
The Painted Desert (1931)
This film was produced and released by Pathé Exchange, Inc. before their takeover by RKO on January 29, 1931, after which the new RKO-Pathé Pictures distributed the film. In a September 2, 1930 Film Daily news item, Dorothy Burgess was announced as Bill Boyd's co-star. According to another Film Daily news item, Jerry Drew replaced Charles Craig as a cast member. Film Daily also notes that ninety percent of the film was shot on location in the Painted Desert near Flagstaff, AZ, on a nearby Indian reservation, in Dinosaur Canyon and in Tuba City, AZ. Film Daily notes that while director Howard Higgin was supervising the construction of village sets, the dialogue and continuity were being "written on the spot." Clark Gable made his sound screen debut in this production. Modern sources add the following information about Gable's participation in the film: Gable's agent, Minna Wallis, the sister of producer-director Hal Wallis, introduced Gable to producer E. B. Derr, who was casting for the film in Los Angeles. When Derr asked Gable if he could ride a horse, Gable replied affirmatively, even though, as he confessed to Wallis later, he had never been on a horse in his life. During the weeks before shooting began, Gable learned how to ride from Art Wilson, a former cowboy from Montana who taught at the Griffith Park Riding Academy in northeast Los Angeles. Gable was paid $750 per week for his work on The Painted Desert. Modern sources also mention that during the production a man was killed and several others were injured when one of the stunt mine explosions went awry. RKO re-made Painted Desert in 1938 .