Sunday, June 23, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Painted Desert (1931) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Two very interesting multifilm sets, RKO Classic Adventures and RKO Classic Romances, were recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

The movies in each set were restored by Lobster Films and preserved by the Library of Congress.

There are three films in the Classic Adventures set: THE SILVER HORDE (1930), THE PAY-OFF (1930), and THE PAINTED DESERT (1931). I started off viewing THE PAINTED DESERT, which stars Bill Boyd, a few years ahead of his first appearance as Hopalong Cassidy, and Clark Gable, very early in his career.

As the film begins, Cash Holbrook (William Farnum) and Jeff Cameron (J. Farrell MacDonald) are two cowpokes who stumble across a baby boy in an abandoned covered wagon the desert. (That aspect was somewhat reminiscent of the earlier HELL'S HEROES, a story better known by its remake title, 3 GODFATHERS.) The two men plan to adopt the baby but argue over naming him, which brings long-simmering resentments to the surface.

Cash takes off with the baby, and Jeff lets him go to avoid hurting the tyke. Baby Bill Holbrook grows up to be played by William Boyd, while many years later we also meet up again with the now-widowed Jeff, who has a feisty young daughter named Mary Ellen (Helen Twelvetrees).

ROMEO AND JULIET style -- or maybe it's more the Hatfields and McCoys -- Bill and Mary Ellen are clearly attracted to one another despite the enmity which has continued between their fathers for decades. Bill and Mary Ellen's developing relationship doesn't sit well with Jeff's new hand Rance (Gable), who is interested in Mary Ellen himself.

When Bill has an argument with his father, he teams with Jeff in a mining operation, leading to an explosive (!) climax.

I quite enjoyed my 79 minutes with THE PAINTED DESERT. I suspect just a few years ago I would have found it on the creaky side, including the slow enunciation of dialogue for the early sound  recording to pick up outdoors; but while some viewers may understandably focus on that aspect, in my case I looked past that and appreciated what the film had to offer, starting with the lead actors. The sunny-natured Boyd increasingly grows on me, and even in an early supporting role Gable exudes charisma; that voice could belong to no one else!

I also enjoyed Twelvetrees as the spirited Mary Ellen. I'm not certain I've seen her in a film before, although there are several in my collection. A classic film fan acquaintance, Cliff Aliperti, has written a biography of the actress.

Some of the photography by Edward Snyder is quite attractive, and I appreciated the many exterior shots of Arizona as it looked nearly 90 years ago. Watching a film like this feels a bit as though one is time traveling to the genuine Old West.

All in all it's a good story, which had a bit of a Zane Grey feel to it, and I enjoyed it.

THE PAINTED DESERT was directed by Howard Higgin and the uncredited Tom Buckingham, who also teamed to write the screenplay.

The Kino Lorber print is quite good; there are some imperfections but for a film of its era many of the scenes look nice and sharp. The sound is also good, without much static, though as noted above it definitely seems as though the actors were deliberately speaking slowly. It's an issue I've noticed from time to time in other early sound films.

As a side note, this film has no connection to RKO's PAINTED DESERT (1938) which starred George O'Brien and Laraine Day.

Stay tuned for future reviews of the other two films in this RKO Classic Adventures set, as well as reviews from the RKO Classic Romances collection. Update: Here is my review of THE SILVER HORDE from the Classic Adventures set.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Laura, I'm pleased to hear that Bill Boyd is an actor growing gradually in your estimation. Maybe you should watch some more Hopalong Cassidy pictures!!?? One I would strongly commend (if you have not already seen it) is "TRAIL DUST" (1936), which I believe is the longest B-series western ever filmed, at 82 minutes. Archie Stout's lensing of Californian vistas is sensational.

A good few years ago now, TCM UK showed some early classic westerns - "THE VIRGINIAN" (1929), "LAW AND ORDER" (1932) & "THE PAINTED DESERT" (1931). I have always regretted not setting my recorder for them. Maybe now is the time to get my hands on the latter film with this set.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, I definitely want to watch more Hoppy movies! They usually show at least one at the Lone Pine Film Festival, and in the meantime in recent months I have been able to record every last one from Encore Westerns -- I just got the last one I needed a couple weeks ago! So I am all ears for those which you find the best and just jotted TRAIL DUST in my notebook.

I would be interested to hear what you think of THE PAINTED DESERT. I suspect it may not be for everyone but as I wrote, I quite enjoyed it.

Funny thing, THE VIRGINIAN (1929) just turned up on Encore Westerns within the last couple of weeks -- please drop me a line if you still need it.

Best wishes,

11:09 PM  

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