Review

  • John Wayne made scores of B-Westerns in the thirties, and in some ways the few he did for Warner Bros. were among the more interesting, having somewhat better production values and execution. There are elements in "Haunted Gold" that would never have been covered by the budget of one of his Monogram programmers, but that's not saying much. It's pretty much the same old thing we'd see from Wayne for the next six or seven years -- good guy helps a sweet young thing outwit nefarious baddies out to cheat her or him out of something. Wayne has physical charm yet is still a callow actor at this time, though no one does much real acting in these. There's no George Hayes to lend true gravitas to the situation, and Erville Alderson, while always an interesting specimen to look at in the movies, is really terrible as a performer in the solid older man part. It's all not really much, until an exciting fight in a cable car between Wayne and an outlaw near the end. What is most notable (and most difficult) about the movie is the sidekick character, Clarence. "Haunted Gold" isn't the first nor would it be the last Hollywood movie to give a black actor bug-eyed terror and clichéd dialect for racial comic effect. But if there can be degrees of acceptability to such stereotyping, this movie seems to take it to a painful degree. For one thing, Blue Washington, who plays Clarence, is a strong, masculine figure of a man -- tall, muscled, intelligent of mien -- yet he scampers about whimpering about spooks and monsters like skinny little Willie Best. It seems immeasurably more degrading (though I'm not suggesting it wasn't degrading for other actors). Perhaps part of the difference is that Willie Best and Mantan Moreland, when they did their frightened "darkie" routine, were funny -- very funny. Watching Blue Washington do this stuff is like watching Sidney Poitier or James Earl Jones do it -- it's difficult not to focus on the humiliation of the actor. The script contains plenty of references to "darkies" and "Smoky" and "that watermelon accent," though Wayne's character treats Clarence more as an amusing comrade than a dimwit or a servant. But none of this makes "Haunted Gold" less uncomfortable an experience, at least if one has any empathy for Blue Washington, an actor who it seems had talent, even if it is sublimated beneath insensitive clichés here.