Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Western Noir Watch: Lust for Gold (1949)

Watched:  05/02/2022
Format:  Criterion Channel
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  S. Sylvan Simon and George Marshall

Well, Criterion Channel is currently highlighting a collection of films starring Ida Lupino, and that's good news for me, anyway.  Always on the hunt for more Lupino, I wanted to check out something I hadn't seen, and we mostly randomly landed on Lust for Gold (1949), what appeared to be a Western, but which really turned out to be Western Noir, which is absolutely a thing.

This is a supremely weird movie, and they needed to make one movie or the other movie in their movie, but instead they give you two partial movies, and I cannot begin to conceive of the "why".  A full 2/3rds of the film is flashback to events from the 1880's, and the rest takes place, which a much-less-talented team of actors, in the present day of 1949.  And I'm not sure the whole section in 1949 needs to exist at all, and I'm not sure that the events of 1880 shouldn't have been mentioned in about three sentences in a very different version of how the 1949 stuff spins out.

The end result is that you don't get any Ida Lupino until something like 35 minutes into a 90 minute movie, and... come on.  What are we even doing here?

The film is a weird mash-up of actual history, fictional shenanigans, and loops back to impacting the real world before it's over with.  It's loosely based on a book which explores "The Lost Dutchman's Mine", a real-world supposed lost goldmine in the greater Phoenix area, and names a character after the author, suggesting this is what happened to the guy (it is not, and the author went berserk after seeing the film).  

For myself - About 20 years ago I was living in the Phoenix area and was reading Duck comics, and the ducks went to the Superstition Mountains, which were very real and often visible from my house.  In this adventure, the ducks sought out The Lost Dutchman's Mine.  Well, I googled the thing, and up it came as a very real legend right in my own backyard.  

There are dozens of versions of the story, and the movie is basically providing a sexy, sexy take on an origin of the mine, but it's also wildly convoluted.  But the gist is: The Lost Dutchman's mine is a supposed bonanza of gold, which no one has ever been able to find since a German immigrant came out of the mountains with piles of gold.  It's incredibly treacherous territory on a good day, and most days the heat and lack of humidity will kill you very suddenly, if a snake or Gila Monster or whatever doesn't get you.  It is true a lot of gold used to be in the area, and you can find some to this day.  I have no opinion on whether the mine ever actually existed in any form.

In our movie, in 1949 Barry Storm pursues another treasure hunter only to see him murdered right in front of him, so he runs the hell away and gets the cops.  We spin wheels for a bit as Barry seeks to find out more info about the mine and his grandfather, the German in question, and eventually we stumble into a flashback starring Glenn Ford trying on a beard and a German accent (The famed "Dutchman" was a case of mistaken identity, when he said he was from Deutschland).  Ford's character is a bit of an outlaw who follows some folks he believes know of the mine's location.

Some dirty dealings, and Glenn Ford has the gold all to himself.  More than he can carry.  

Back in town, Ida Lupino is the wife of a ne'er-do-well (Gig Young) and sets a plan in motion to gradually seduce the suddenly wealthy German.  She's not just a schemer, she's *the best schemer*, but it's noir, and by the time all is said and done, who knows what's a lie and what's the truth anymore?  

Anyway, she looks fantastic in her 1880's wardrobe.

As always, Lupino is fantastic and, as Jamie said, the movie doesn't really get going until she shows up.  This is both a comment on plot and energy in the movie, as there's no real story until Ida arrives to bring the plot to a head and act her bad-girl pants off.

There are no good guys in this movie.  At all.  Maybe the Sherriff.  And it's fascinating to watch everyone try to out-angle each other, with it all ending badly for everyone, really.  They got that gold fever, and it's a trap, man.

The movie does use real names, but not real events.  The relationships depicted in the movie seem to be fictionalized completely, but the State of Arizona was clearly pumped as hell about this movie - and were clearly hoping for tourist dollars from it, welcoming people to risk their lives running around deeply inhospitable terrain to look for something that probably never existed.  But, hey, once you've see The Thing on I-10, there's got to be something else to look for.

As I mentioned, the film takes place within a short drive from where I once lived, and I take umbrage with their lack of attention to water and how that works in a desert.  You need water.  You will absolutely pass out and die very suddenly.  So all the shots of people bopping around the mountains with no water?  Nonsense.  

All in all, the movie with Ford and Lupino was worth the time, the framing device was dopey as hell.  But they did actually go to Arizona, so that was interesting.

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