MAY IS EARLY 3-STRIP TECHNICOLOR MONTH
An action-packed historical drama with Western elements, 1938’s GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT, the second all-three-strip-Technicolor Warner Bros. feature, comes to DVD via the Warner Archive Collection/Warner Bros. Entertainment.
In 1936, Paramount beat the other studios to the Technicolor punch by producing Trail of the Lonesome Pine – the first three-strip movie to be shot on-location. The pic, deservedly a smash hit with critics and audiences, opened the floodgates for similar fare, and Warners led the charge. In 1937, their first “new Technicolor” pic was the outdoor adventure, God’s Country and the Woman, starring George Brent. Not surprisingly, it did quite well with audiences (critics were mixed), enough to do a sort-of follow-up, again starring Brent.
But this time, there would be improvements, mostly in terms of upgraded budget, supporting cast, and director.
Indeed, Brent’s costars were way above his God’s Country cast members (Beverly Roberts, Robert Barrat, Alan Hale, Roscoe Ates, and the insufferable El Brendel – although baddie Barton MacLane would return). Here, he was ably supported by no less that Olivia de Havilland and Claude Rains, each making their Technicolor debuts (with the latter appearing in his only Western), plus an array of character actor faves, including Margaret Lindsay, John Litel, Sidney Toler, Tim Holt, Henry O’Neill, Russell Simpson, George “Gabby” Hayes (yep, Gabby Hayes and Claude Rains doing scenes together – and in Technicolor!), Harry Davenport, Clarence Kolb, Moroni Olsen, Willie Best, Granville Bates, Charles Halton, and Cy Kendall.
Even more prestigious was the choice of director – Michael Curtiz, making his initial foray into the perfected process. An old hand at two-strip, his earlier works often used the previous color system for highlighted sequences (Mammy), and, more relevantly, for full-length titles (Under the Texas Moon, Dr. X, Mystery of the Wax Museum). But this was all-new, all-natural, and presented the challenge of dealing with the elements. More on that later.
The story for GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT was scripted by Warren Duff and Robert Buckner (based upon a Cosmopolitan serial by Clements Ripley, another important factor). It was not simply a mountain romance with a lot of action (although there was plenty of that on both counts). It was a movie amazingly (for 1938) about ecology.
In 1879, the new-born American fat cats (aka, the 19th century one-pecenters) glom on to the 1877 discovery of gold in California – a strike that threatens to surpass the famed 1849 rush. Rather than laboriously using pans and sifters, these “entrepreneurs” go all technology and utilize the industrial age mechanics of hydraulics to essentially rape the Sacramento Valley. This (as we see in frightening sequences) comprises using torrents of siphoned lake/river water to rip the tops and sides off mountains (day and night, 24/7!).
While this leads to quicker results, it also causes a nightmare of side effects. Man-made floods of tsunami strength ruin thousands of acres of farmed crops, turn the rich terrain into giant sinkholes, and even cause deaths from desecrated property and washed-away homes.
Brent is the modern techno-crat foreman who rides out to oversee the project, falls in love with Rains’ farmer’s daughter de Havilland and attempts to reach a compromise before the escalating violence between the factions turns into a full-scale war.
Interestingly enough (and a positive sliver of hope for my like-minded ecologists), the highest court in America eventually ruled in favor of the farmers, citing the destruction as unnecessary, and, in fact, causing a devastating effect on the land – in essence, polluting it. Oh, yeah, did I mention, this is based on a true story?
As alluded to, the elements had their say in the production, as actual torrential rains disrupted filming, causing expensive and excessive delays. Director Curtiz, already known for taking too long on Warners movies, made lemonade out of these landfalls, and spent many hours with camera crews shooting rainbows in the new process. Suffice to say, these shots are jaw-dropping gorgeous.
Like with many who disagreed with him, Curtiz soon took on the Technicolor organization, particularly official color consultant Natalie Kalmus (wife of the firm’s owner). Going against the rules provided by the company, the director chose to shoot in to backlight for several pastoral sequences. When Ms. Kalmus complained, the Hungarian autocrat snapped back that Technicolor doesn’t tell the sun what to do. Nor (apparently) Curtiz. The dazzling results floored the studio hierarchy in the Warners screening room, and actually caused Technicolor to rewrite their guidelines.
Typical of Curtiz, the narrative moves quick and the lavish sets, including one for an Eastern city ball (where the evil capitalists conspire), contrasted with the scenic splendor of Weaverville, CA (as lensed by d.p. Sol Polito), are awesome in three-strip. Nevertheless Warner suits (including J.L.) were biting their nails, anxiously awaiting for the bloated cash-hemorrhaging pic to wrap. They needn’t have worried, GOLD proved just that at the box-office, reaping a profit of $250K, a lofty sum in 1938.
SIDELINE WINK-WING, NUDGE-NUDGE BIT: Making an appearance at the aforementioned ball is a Senator Hearst, who chuckles about his frivolous son wanting to run a newspaper; it is indeed the pater of William Randolph Hearst, an in-joke, as the movie was coproduced at Warners with Mr. H’s Cosmopolitan Productions, and, as indicated, originated from a story in the magnate’s names-the-same magazine.
The Warner Archive DVD of GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT looks pretty damn good. While not rendering the clarity of a Blu-Ray (maybe a possibility for a later release), the colors are spectacular, reasonably approaching the beauty that knocked the socks off 1938 audiences. The mono track, typical of the studio, is fairly strong, featuring a (what else?) boisterous score by Max Steiner.
Curtiz, de Havilland, and Rains would be rewarded and reunited later that year with their second Technicolor effort, the (rightfully way better known) blockbuster and eventual all-time classic, Adventures of Robin Hood.
GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT. Color. Full frame [1.33:1]; 2.0 mono. The Warner Archive Collection/Warner Bros. Entertainment. CAT # B00O9OEBMG. SRP: $9.99.
This title and others can be purchased at the Warner Archive Amazon Store or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold.