John Wayne's Westerns in the mid 1930's for Lone Star Productions were typically formulaic, and they show the Duke developing the two fisted no nonsense style of hero he eventually achieved. Republic Pictures picked up the pacing and quality in this 1942 effort, in which John Wayne portrays a druggist on his way West and landing in Sacramento via San Francisco. Tom Craig's (Wayne) gimmick is bending coins, so his strength is not in question when it comes to facing down bad guys. In this case it's town boss Britt Dawson (Albert Dekker), who owns just about everything there is in Sacramento, and what he doesn't he manages to control through strength of will. Dawson's only weakness is his fiancée Lacey Miller (Binnie Barnes), and therein lies the thorn between two antagonists. Lacey has an eye for Craig, and is willing to back his play on opening a pharmacy in Sacramento. At first the deal is fashioned along financial considerations, but Lacey starts balancing her relationship between the two men until she can find an opening.
Among Wayne's Westerns this one's unique; a second suitor comes along in the form of socialite Ellen Sanford (Helen Parrish). It's Ellen who catches Craig's eye, and that's fine as far as it goes, but Ellen doesn't love him, and it's never made clear why she's willing to marry him and promote his career into the political arena.
The film's comic relief comes in the form of Edgar Kennedy, who we meet as he terrorizes a San Francisco bar with his entrance under the influence of a major toothache. When Craig eases Kegs McKeever's pain, he's earned a friend for life, as Kegs faithfully follows him to Sacramento. No mean feat there, as both find themselves in the river at the hands of boss Dawson's henchmen. Kegs winds up with his own share of problems as he winds up fending off an unusually horny aide to Lacey Miller, humorously portrayed by Patsy Kelley.
Events seem to turn on a dime in the movie, and that may be one of it's weaknesses. For example, as Craig begins to earn the trust of Sacramento's citizens with his practice, charging fair prices and offering friendly advice, his fortunes turn abruptly when Dawson sabotages his medicines, and a town drunk dies consuming a large quantity of laudanum. Never mind that Whitey (Emmett Lynn) just barges in to the drug store and helps himself to whatever he thinks might give him a buzz. The town's citizens turn into a mob, and they're willing to hang Craig! Fortunately, they all have short attention spans, because they drop their cause as soon as a prospector hits town with news of a gold strike at Sutter's Creek. Just as quickly, they're all off to form mining camps in search of riches. The whole scene plays out so quickly that it defies credibility, but thankfully for Craig, he's alive to carry on.
The turning point in the film in more ways than one is an outbreak of typhoid fever in the gold mining camps. Uncharacteristically, Lacey has a change of heart and heads for the camps to help nurse the ill. Craig's duty seems clear at this point, and that's when the hammer falls on his relationship with the selfish Ellen Sanford. When she sets down an ultimatum, it's no contest - Craig heads off to the mining camps. Boss Dawson meanwhile plans to hijack the medical supplies on their way to the camps in exchange for a share of the newly discovered gold. When he learns of his fiancée's presence there, he's ready to come to her rescue, but is gunned down by his own brother Joe (Dick Purcell), who's a bit more focused on the original mission.
By now, the end is no longer in doubt. Following the trend of it's Lone Star predecessors, John Wayne winds up at the film's finish in a clinch with the bad girl turned good. But at least there was a story along the way; in virtually all of his Lone Star films John Wayne won the girl, but most of the time he wasn't even trying!
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