Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Tonight’s Movie: In Old California (1942)

I've now caught up with IN OLD CALIFORNIA (1942), a John Wayne film for Republic Pictures, as part of my quest to see all of Wayne's films of the '40s.

Last month I saw another of Wayne's '40s Republic films, DAKOTA (1945). DAKOTA was much the better film of the two, although IN OLD CALIFORNIA had some enjoyable moments scattered throughout.

The somewhat unusual plot finds Wayne playing Tom Craig, a pharmacist from Boston who arrives to set up business in booming Gold Rush era California. Craig is a mild-mannered, good-natured gentleman who orders milk at a bar and refuses to become outraged when he's ill treated, even when tossed off a boat in the middle of a river! He just shrugs and carries on, always looking at the bright side.

It should be clear that Craig is no wimp, possessing both moral and physical strength; the latter is hinted at when he fascinates onlookers by periodically bending coins with his fingers. He's simply judicious when it comes to picking his battles.

In Sacramento Craig gets to know two very different ladies: Lacey (Binnie Barnes), a saloon gal who's an item with a local crook, Britt Dawson (Albert Dekker), and Ellen (Helen Parrish, THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP), a proper young lady visiting from San Francisco. Craig goes into business with Lacey when she becomes a partner in his pharmacy, and he proposes marriage to Ellen.

As time goes on Lacey loses interest in Dawson and falls hard for her business partner, while Ellen gradually reveals a calculating shrew underneath her sweet-tempered exterior.

Meanwhile, there are problems as Dawson tries to drive Craig out of business...and there's an epidemic brewing at a mining camp outside of town...

Wayne is appealing as the pharmacist, and one of the more interesting aspects of the movie is seeing someone with that degree essentially acting as a doctor at times, dispensing medicine from his shop as needed, while also providing aid to a medical doctor.

I really enjoy Parrish, but her role as Craig's fiancee is underdeveloped; I don't know whether that's the fault of the script by Gertrude Purcell and Frances Hyland or if scenes were left on the cutting-room floor. Barnes fares better in a larger part, but on the whole the movie could have used less "comic relief" (from Patsy Kelly and Edgar Kennedy) and reduced the extensive "riding around shooting" action scenes in the last third of the movie in favor of more plot.

My favorite thing about this movie is a related anecdote by Barnes. In a 1985 interview she was asked who was the best actor she'd ever worked with: Laurence Olivier? Ralph Richardson? Her reply was "John Wayne."

IN OLD CALIFORNIA runs 88 minutes. It was directed by William C. McGann. The black and white cinematography was by Jack Marta. Location filming took place in Kernville, along with Big Tujunga Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains, but the movie also relies heavily on back projections and soundstage "exteriors."

The supporting cast includes Dick Purcell, Charles Halton, Harry Shannon, Milton Kibbee, Anne O'Neal, Esther Estrella, and Emily LaRue.

IN OLD CALIFORNIA is available on DVD in multiple editions. I found my copy, labeled Republic Pictures, in a used DVD store earlier this year, not long before everything shut down. It's also been released by Olive Films which can typically be counted on to do a nice job.


Blogger barrylane said...

Binnie Barnes gave the right answer. Louis Hayward, Rex Harrison, and Laurence Olivier were all in the same acting class, circa 1929. At some point, in the late sixties, Louis, June, Dana, and Barry were having dinner in LA, when Olivier in the same restaurant came across the room to congratulate Louis on his great career; very warm and gracious, but when Sir Laurence returned to his own table, Hayward leaned into the rest of us and said: "What a hypocrite, Larry is.' As an aside, Rex was really disliked by nearly everyone, but Louis thought of him as a good guy and a lot of fun.

5:31 PM  
Blogger Lee R said...

You're doing what I did all through the 1980's. Every week I watched a different John Wayne movie until I had seen them all. Then I watched them all again a couple more times. I had to keep a written list to be sure I didn't repeat any till I had seen them all. Those Republic movies and his early hour long westerns I had never seen before then.

I'm even happier now when Republic colorized most all of their '40's Duke movies and I now have them all transferred over to DVD. Fighting Kentuckian and Wake of The Red Witch I remember especially well done colorize wise. Even Red River and Stagecoach are now to be found colorized and they're really beautiful too. Too bad Republic didn't film in color but they are now.

6:07 PM  
Anonymous Kevin Deany said...

Wayne's father was a pharmacist for many years, so I bet Wayne enjoyed playing one in this movie.

8:35 AM  
Anonymous John Hall said...

I'll be interested in seeing a future review of IN OLD OKLAHOMA aka WAR OF THE WILDCATS. That's my favorite Wayne Republic film. Albert Dekker is Wayne's adversary again and the cast includes Martha Scott and Gabby Hayes. A side note: During the '60s, a local theatre showed an episode of Republic's 1947 serial JESSE JAMES RIDES AGAIN each week during a children's matinee series. The action at the climax of the penultimate episode was truly spectacular. I didn't realize until years later that the footage came from IN OLD OKLAHOMA with Clayton Moore instead of Wayne. One of my first lessons into the world of stock footage.

12:53 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

In Old Oklahoma is a wonderful film, and Martha Scott, a genuinely great actress, plays in character with Wayne the way all leading ladies should. Love her, and the film.

3:28 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

What a wonderful bunch of comments!

First, I'm really glad to read all the praise for IN OLD OKLAHOMA/WAR OF THE WILDCATS, as it's probably next on my list to watch from this group of films. I was surprised to realize how many of Wayne's '40s films I hadn't seen -- I have at least five more beyond IN OLD OKLAHOMA which come to mind. You all have made it sound very appealing!

Fun story about Louis Hayward and Olivier, Barrylane!

Lee, that's really great you've seen all the Wayne films. I chose to specifically focus on the '40s for now as there were so many from that single decade I realized I hadn't seen and the casts of the films have a lot of appeal for me -- but eventually I'll probably need to be a completist and work my way through all his minor '30s Westerns (I've seen some) as well as late titles like McQ.

I'll also be seeing THE FLYING LEATHERNECKS (1951) for the first time very soon when I review the new Warner Archive Blu-ray. Given how much I like and admire Wayne, it's kind of amazing how much of his work I haven't seen, but bit by bit I'm rectifying that!

Kevin, I love that Wayne's character was in the same profession as his real-life father.

John, great info about the stock footage from IN OLD OKLAHOMA and the serial, love info like that.

Best wishes,

11:17 PM  

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