This article has been written as part of the Spread the Ida-Love Blogathon being hosted by MissIdaLupino.Wordpress.com. I've previously written about Ida Lupino movies, good and bad, here in coverage of Search for Beauty (1934) and The Sea Wolf (1941). Ida was also featured in The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939) which I recently wrote about on Warren-William.com. This entry covers Lust for Gold (1949) starring Ida Lupino and Glenn Ford. Be sure to check out Ida Lupino related content just published by several other writers as part of the Ida Lupino Blogathon.
Speaking from recent experience, you'll get a lot more out of Lust for Gold if you read up on the legend of the Lost Dutchman's Mine before watching. If you don't there's a good chance you'll come away feeling similarly to Jane Lockhart, who reviewed Lust for Gold in the September 1949 issue of The Rotarian. Lockhart wrote, "With its complicated flashbacks within flashbacks, this is probably one of the most confusing plots ever put on the screen ... Magnificent scenery, but that's about all you can say for it."
Most of that confusion pretty much evaporates once you have even the slightest grasp of the basic history and legend of the Lost Dutchman. Yes, the movie fails at telling the story in a clear way on its own, but with brief supplementation you're in for a much improved experience.
Lust for Gold opens with a short note from the Governor of Arizona, filled with qualifiers, but basically stating what you are about to see is a true story based on history ... and legend. The legend is believed to have been greatly embellished after the 1891 death of the real-life Jacob Walz, played by Glenn Ford in the film.
In brief, the legend, cobbled from the few sources mentioned at the bottom of this piece, involves the Apache massacre of the Peraltas and their men, a group of prospectors who had discovered gold in the shadow of Weaver's Needle at Superstition Mountain, Arizona. The gold, already mined, was either obscured by the Apache to placate the gods or covered by an earthquake. Jacob Walz, or Waltz, was the German whom the Dutchman was named for--Germans were often referred to as Dutchmen in those days. Opinions about the real Walz ranged from his being a crazy old coot to "one of the most callous and ruthless serial killers" (Fanthorpe) in Arizona.
Most of what's mentioned above is pictured in the movie Lust for Gold with a good deal of color and action added.
There are records showing that Walz had sent $254,000 worth of smelted gold to the U.S. mint in Sacramento, CA between 1879-1885. On his deathbed he told the story of his gold to a woman caring for him and from there the legend was born. Interest in the Lost Dutchman's mine began anew in 1931 after explorer Adolph Ruth was killed there. The movie Lust for Gold was based on the 1945 book Thunder God's Gold by Barry Storm. Storm is the character in the beginning and end sections of Lust for Gold played by William Prince. He was not of any actual relation to Jacob Walz and, in fact, sued Columbia pictures in the mid-1950's claiming that they falsely portrayed his character as the illegitimate grandson of Walz. The suit was settled out of court.
Wikipedia has a lengthy and well-documented page about the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine if you'd like to learn more.
Glenn Ford, as mentioned, plays the Dutchman, Jacob Walz, in the main part of Lust for Gold. Walz as quickly established as not only being mean and no good, but a murderer as well. That's the thing about Lust for Gold: none of its main characters are very likable.
When Walz returns to Phoenix to cash in his gold the event draws just about everybody in town out to surround him, including Ida Lupino's Julia Thomas. Julia and her husband Pete own the bakery in town and it's none too satisfying an occupation for Julia. Upon meeting the pair Julia mentions a murder Pete had committed when they'd lived in Milwaukee four years ago and she establishes herself as a disappointed fortune hunter. Pete rattles off all of the schemes he's had to make money over the years mentioning how one of them "wasn't my fault. I got swindled." Lupino, cold as ice, replies, "I got swindled," referring more generally to her marriage to Pete.
Julia sends Pete off to corral the Dutchman but, as usual, Pete fails pretty miserably. Luckily the bartender had spiked the Dutchman's drink so after he stumbled out of the bar gun a blazing he just happens to pass out in front of the bakery. Julia drags him inside, puts him to bed, and sets about earning his trust.
While it takes about 10-20 minutes for Glenn Ford to remember he's supposed to have a German accent he's otherwise very good here. Extremely menacing in a way that 3:10 to Yuma (1957) fans will appreciate. Ford also gets to show his tender side in an escalating series of love scenes with Ida Lupino, who's masterfully duplicitous throughout her part in Lust for Gold.
Ida excels in the little moments. Check her facial expression when she buries her head into Gig Young's chest and looks away. You can almost see the plot she's imagining as Ford gives her the directions to his mine. And when it comes to the climactic scene at the mine Ida pulls out all the stops, pleading, plotting, tearing up and bouncing around in a more physical way than I can recall seeing her do before. You might notice from the screen captures interspersed throughout this article that Ida is a woman of many faces. Her Julia wears them all well throughout Lust for Gold because she's as crooked as can be. Lupino is so good as the heavy that I found myself, at times, rooting for a pair of murderers over her.
Ford's son, Peter, in his recently published biography of his father, Glenn Ford: A Life, doesn't spend much time on Lust for Gold, but he does go out of his way to mention how fond his father and Ida were of one another. According to Peter Ford his father told Lupino that she and Bette Davis were two actresses that he especially admired. Ida returned the compliment to the press, claiming that Glenn Ford, along with Richard Widmark, had been her two favorite leading men up to that time.
While the title card is reserved for Ida Lupino and Glenn Ford, Gig Young's performance as the jealous husband shouldn't be overlooked. Despite the terrible end to Young's life he's still well regarded for his work as one of the more consistent good guys on the screen. Well, that's no so in Lust for Gold where, as I mentioned, he's got a murder in his past and at one point threatens to tack on a second. While his Pete is never completely enamored with the swindle wife Julia wishes to pull he makes himself worth watching by unraveling just a little bit more each time he enters a new scene.
The shame of Lust for Gold is that Lupino, Ford and Young, despite carrying the bulk of the movie, only work 60 of the 90 minutes that the picture runs. In fact, we don't even see Ida until we're almost a half hour into Lust for Gold, and when I say almost I mean 29 minutes and change.
Their story, set in the 1880's, is framed by the modern tale of Jacob Walz' grandson, Barry Storm, who's played by an eager but annoying William Prince. Prince perhaps would be easier to take if it weren't for the too wordy voice-over he provides with the tones of a radio announcer calling a really exciting ballgame. An example of this diaglogue: "The land dropped out from under me like a deceitful friend." Almost every line complete with strange simile verging on camp today and wearing down the effective main portion of the film from the outside-in.
Lust for Gold is littered with popular character actors starting in the modern sequences with the Sheriff played by Paul Ford of The Phil Silvers Show; Grandpa Walton, Will Geer, as Ford's deputy; and another TV star, Jay Silverheels, soon Tonto alongside The Lone Ranger. At the Pioneer Rest Home Elspeth Dudgeon tells Prince the story which spins us back in time for the first shot of Glenn Ford in the movie. There he scares Dudgeon as a little girl, played by Karolyn Grimes, who you certainly know as Zuzu in It's a Wonderful Life (1946).
Ford's best pal is played by Edgar Buchanan, of Petticoat Junction fame as well as having appeared on screen over a dozen times with real life pal, Glenn Ford. Former silent star Antonio Moreno shows up as the character based on the supposed last surviving member of the Peraltas, the group who'd originally found the mine before being mostly slaughtered by the Apache. Blonde Myrna Dell is on hand in a bar scene; Arthur Hunnicutt is here. I'm likely forgetting others, but you get the idea--Lust for Gold is packed.
Lust for Gold was a Columbia picture, the last under contract at that time for Glenn Ford, who re-upped for seven years afterwards, and the first under a contract with the studio for Ida Lupino. Lupino had recently married Collier Young, her second husband and at that time executive assistant to Columbia head Harry Cohn. Lust for Gold was originally to be directed by George Marshall but he clashed with producer S. Sylvan Simon and so Simon took over the film himself.
The original 1949 New York Times review called Lust for Gold "a tense, intelligent and often thrilling adventure." The Times also brings up the elephant in the room when it mentions that the film is "not in the same class as Treasure of Sierra Madre to which school it belongs, but it very competently probes into the anatomy of greed." The last word is interesting because von Stroheim's Greed (1924) was the other film I thought of, besides Treasure of the Sierra Madre, while watching Lust for Gold. Ford's got it, Young isn't that interested in it, but Ida Lupino becomes obsessed with gold in a way I've only seen topped by Greed's Trina.
Lust for Gold was enjoyable the first time I viewed it, but as I mentioned you'll want to have at least a little grip on the history before watching yourself as that helped me enjoy a second go-around much more. It did seem strange to have the top three billed stars only appear for an hour in the middle of Lust for Gold. What happens once Glenn Ford and Ida Lupino depart and we return to the 20th Century is entertaining, but I found myself mentally checking out once the stars left, wondering when the credits would roll.
- Conrotto, Eugene L. Lost Gold and Silver Mines of the Southwest. Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc., 1991.
- Dollar, Tom, and Jerry Sieve. Guide to Arizona's Wilderness Areas. Englewood: Westcliffe Publishers, Inc., 1998.
- Fanthorpe, Lionel and Patricia. The World's Most Mysterious Objects. Canada: Dundurne Press, 2002.
- Ford, Peter, and Patrick McGilligan. Glenn Ford: A Life. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011.
- Lockhart, Jane. "Looking at Movies." The Rotarian September 1949: 37.
- "Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine." Wikipedia: < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Dutchman%27s_Gold_Mine >.
- "The 'Lost Dutchman.'" The Arizona Republican. 12 Jan 1899: 5.
- Lust for Gold (1949): A Fine Addition to Good Westerns. The New York Times. 4 Jul 1949. < http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=940DE3DC103DE03ABC4C53DFB1668382659EDE >