THUNDER MOUNTAIN (1935) is a pleasant George O'Brien RKO Western. Though at some points it feels too much like an old-school melodrama, with some exaggerated performances, O'Brien's company is always welcome.
Like Tim Holt's THUNDER MOUNTAIN (1947) a dozen years later, this film is based on a novel by Zane Grey. However, the plots of the two films don't have a great deal in common.
Kal Emerson (O'Brien) and his friend and partner Steve (Dean Benton) are staked by Samuel Blair (Edward LaSaint) to find a gold mine for which they have obtained a map. Blair's daughter Sydney (Barbara Fritchie) has stars in her eyes at the sound of the word "gold" and lets Kal think she has a romantic interest in him -- which she drops when Kal and Steve have their claim jumped.
Kal doesn't seem to notice that sweet dance hall singer "Nugget" (Frances Grant), unlike Sydney, has his best interests at heart and is pining away for him.
Ownership of the mine claim and accompanying romantic complications are all neatly sorted out in about an hour's time.
Although the DVD print I watched was quite faded, it was still possible to appreciate the extensive open-air location shooting, I'm assuming somewhere in the San Bernardino Mountains.
The Zane Grey films made by O'Brien and Holt appear to be in public domain, but it would certainly be great if this RKO film could be restored, as I think a good print would be a real beauty. (Warner Archive, are you listening?!)
Incidentally, IMDb lists the running time as 68 minutes but the Sinister Cinema DVD I watched was 59 minutes. The DVD was made from a 16mm print; halfway through there's even a lengthy reel change countdown no one bothered to edit out!
THUNDER MOUNTAIN was directed by David Howard, who worked closely with George O'Brien for a number of years before Howard's untimely passing in 1941.
Cinematographer Frank B. Good also worked on a number of O'Brien films before passing away in 1939.
Morgan Wallace plays the villain. Look for Gabby Hayes, billed George F. Hayes, as an old prospector who befriends Kal.