Monday, July 01, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Painted Desert (1938)

PAINTED DESERT is another pleasant George O'Brien Western for RKO. It's distinguished by location shooting at California's Red Rock Canyon and a couple lovely songs performed by Ray Whitley and the Phelps Brothers.

This time around O'Brien plays Bob McVey, who owns a ranch with a mine on the property. He meets Carol Banning (Laraine Johnson, better known as Laraine Day) when her grandfather claims to own the rights to the mine. Eventually Bob and Carol go into the mining business together. She initially claims not to like Bob but anyone watching Bob and Carol interact knows the lady doth protest too much.

This is a fast-paced 58-minute movie with a sturdy story and good lead actors. This was the second of three movies O'Brien and Johnson/Day made in 1938-39, following BORDER G-MAN (1938).

Off the screen O'Brien was 22 years older than his 17-year-old leading lady, but the gap doesn't seem nearly that pronounced on the screen, as the lighthearted O'Brien is in tremendous physical shape and Day always seemed quite mature for her age. (She was just 19 when she starred in the 1940 film FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, appearing several years older.) They have appealing chemistry, with O'Brien falling for her as soon as he sees her eyes, no matter that she's pointing a gun at him!

The opening scene is one of the loveliest in the film, as Ray Whitley and the Phelps Brothers sing Whitley's "Painted Desert" on the trail at the end of a workday. Later they sing "Moonlight on the Painted Desert," trying to set a romantic mood for Bob and Carol.

The Phelps Brothers, seen here in a photo, appeared in several of Whitley's films including BORDER G-MAN, starring O'Brien. They have a sound reminiscent of the Sons of the Pioneers. Thanks to the internet I learned that the 15th annual Phelps Brothers festival was held last month in Chesapeake, Virginia. There's more info at the Phelps Brothers site.

PAINTED DESERT was directed by David Howard. It was photographed by Harry J. Wild, who would later shoot a number of excellent film noir titles. The supporting cast includes Maude Allen, Stanley Fields, Fred Kohler Sr., and Lloyd Ingraham.

This film has been shown on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available online. It's not yet available on DVD and does not appear to have had a VHS release.


Blogger Kevin Deany said...

These reviews have been very helpful. There's so many B westerns I don't know where to start, and I've found your reviews of these George O'Brien and Tim Holt titles to be most enlightening.

I've been catching some of the Gene Autry titles on the Encore Westerns channel, but it may be time to check out some of the other guys.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Kevin, I was absolutely delighted by your comment and very much appreciated you taking the time to share it. It's been a treat for me to get to know the Holt and O'Brien movies, and it makes me very happy knowing that the information I've shared here about those films might lead others to discover them too. I'm so glad they're becoming more easily available thanks to the Warner Archive!

Incidentally, singer-composer Ray Whitley, who plays O'Brien's sidekick in a few films, was the man who wrote a song closely associated with Gene Autry, "Back in the Saddle Again." You can hear Whitley himself sing it in BORDER G-MAN.

I'd love to know what you think when you have the chance to watch some of these films.

Best wishes,

8:18 AM  

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