Thursday, May 30, 2013

Olivia Finds Gold

This week, we return to one of our favorites, the lovely Olivia de Havilland in the 1938 technicolor epic Gold is Where You Find It.  Olivia plays Serena Farris, the daughter of Colonel Ferris (Claude Rains). She is at odds with her wastrel brother, Lance (Tim Holt), who has no regard for the land, while she endeavors to build a fruit orchard on the farm. 

Enter Jared Whitney (George Brent), the new mining foreman at the Golden Moon Mining Company.  He shares Serena's love for the land, but at the same time, he is the person now responsible for its destruction.  He befriends Lance, loves Serena, and earns the enmity of the Colonel.

Set in California's Sacramento Valley, the story is both a romance between Serena and Jared as well as the more serious story of the effects of hydraulic mining on the environment.  The film vividly portrays the damage caused by high-pressure mining, and on the farmers who are trying to live and work in the midst of this destruction.  The opening is done in an almost documentary style, making its statements about mining even more powerful.  That much of the back-story - the mining itself, its consequences, and the lawsuits initiated by the farmers (specifically Edwards Woodruff v. North Bloomfield Mining and Gravel Company) increase the impact of the film. This chapter from the Public Policy Institute of California may be of interest to those of you who would like more information about this period of history.

Filmed in Technicolor, Gold is Where You Find It was likely the first western to use the process.  (It was also a test balloon for The Adventures of Robin Hood, an attempt to see the results of the process.  Interestingly, Michael Curtiz directed both films).  The special effects are tremendous - though today, we can spot the miniature work for what it is, in 1938 (and on a big screen), it must have been amazing. And if you want to see a really beautiful scene, watch the very last shot.  The technicolor vistas will take your breath away.

We've got some amazing performances here as well.  Let's start with the lovely Olivia.  Serena is only 17 years old when the film begins.  The character is well named.  Though she has a temper, there is a serenity about her when she works in her orchard.  She rather reminded us a bit of Candide, looking to create the best of all possible worlds in her small piece of land.

George Brent's Jared is a good man, in the best sense of the word.  He wants to do his job, and do it well, but he also understands and appreciates that his work is creating damage.  He wants to change it, but he is hamstrung by the greedy, careless men for whom he works.  He loves the land, and falls in love with Serena because she is so much a part of the land.

Margaret Lindsay (Rosanne Ferris), who is married to Colonel Ferris' dull and avaricious brother Ralph (John Litel) is literally a piece of work.  Flirtatious in the worst sense of the word, she has no love for anyone.  She has no interest in her niece and nephew. Then again, she apparently has no children herself; she's selfish and vain enough that children of any age are a burden.  We loved her line to Serena to "not call her Aunt, just Rosanne".  Heaven forbid anyone suspect she has an adult niece!!  The costuming of Serena and Rosanne give us more information.  Look at the lovely, simple country clothing, contrasted with Rosanne's citified, overdone gowns.  We learn a lot about the women from the way they are dressed.



Claude Rains as Colonel Ferris is, as always, amazing.  He is in the midst of a firestorm, with tensions between him and his brother and between him and his son.  Rains' attitude towards Brent is understandable; he sees him as stealing his daughter, corrupting his son, and destroying his farm.  Ultimately, Ferris is shows as a fair man; Rains lets us see the goodness in the man, even when we most dislike his actions.

Tim Holt gets very low billing in the film, but he treads a fine line in his portrayal of Lance.  And he succeeds admirably. He manages to show a young man who clearly has depth, but chooses not to always plumb it.

Finally, one of our favorite moments happened about midway through the film, when we meet Senator Hearst, whose son "Willie wants to be a journalist".  The senator is horrified - running a paper will never make a profit!

For an interesting analysis of the film, visit the article on the TCM website about the film.  Also from TCM, a trailer: