CALIFORNIA is a meandering, overwrought Western which never quite lives up to the sum of its parts. It has excellent lead actors in Ray Milland, Barbara Stanwyck, and Barry Fitzgerald, but the film is curiously uninvolving; there is a lack of character development and sluggish pacing. The film doesn't seem to know what it wants to be, shifting gears from being a wagon train movie to depicting life in a gold rush town to a story about Milland stopping the evil machinations of those who would stop California's quest for statehood.
Through it all, Milland and Stanwyck have a love-hate relationship, but we only see the surface of their characters, and not their motivations, for far too long. What's with the chip on her shoulder and her willingness to marry a former slaver (George Coulouris)? Why did Milland desert the army? On the other hand, some major plot developments are telegraphed miles in advance. It's a fairly tedious 97 minutes which builds to an unpleasantly violent conclusion.
The supporting cast includes Albert Dekker, Frank Faylen, and Anthony Quinn. The striking color cinematography is by Ray Rennahan, who worked on many beautiful Technicolor films including GONE WITH THE WIND, DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, and BLOOD AND SAND. Stanwyck's costumes are by Edith Head. The film has a couple montages set to choral music, with the score by Victor Young; Young did fabulous work on many films, including John Ford's RIO GRANDE and THE QUIET MAN, but here the choral songs give the movie a sort of "B" movie, juvenile tone.
CALIFORNIA was directed by John Farrow. Four years later Farrow and Milland would reteam for the Western COPPER CANYON, reviewed here, which was quite a bit more entertaining. Both films were partially shot on location at Sedona, Arizona.
CALIFORNIA is available on DVD as part of the Classic Western Roundup, Volume 2, along with THE TEXANS (reviewed here), THE MAN FROM THE ALAMO, and THE CIMARRON KID.