21 April 2012 | gmginsfo
A Film With Faults, Just Like California, But Golden Still
Most of the prior reviewers have done a good job of noting the problems with this film but, in the terms relative to Hollywood, historical accuracy is not one of them. Hydraulic mining WAS environmentally catastrophic, but for the farmers and ranchers who lived downstream it was also economically so, a point not emphasized by many modern environmentalists with a narrow focus. The value of this film is that it graphically and realistically tells that side of the story, too, in human and economic terms. Fellow lawyers will laugh at the jump in the appellate process from the USDC for the Eastern District of California to the California Supreme Ct., (the case was actually litigated in the USDC for the Northern District of CA, in San Francisco), but the message comes through: hydraulic mining WAS a grave nuisance and it was effectively ended, at least in CA and much of the US, by the decisions that issued from the lawsuits involved, even if subsequent legislation allowed it to reappear, with some constraints on its worst effects, in the final decade of the XIX century.
I never even knew of this movie until I watched it on TCM this morning - and I'm glad I did! It's apparently unavailable on DVD, which is a shame, and it would benefit from a thorough restoration, but I don't fault the direction or performances as much as some others do. In fact, that's one of the interesting and appealing things about this film: it tentativeness. You get the feeling that the director and actors are exploring the script as much as Warners was still exploring the Technicolor process involved in its making. That meshes well with the scenes of San Francisco during the 1880s, in all its pre-quake and proto-profligate heyday, where the mindless joi de vivre flows as fast as the champagne to set the mood for the disaster later to come.
There's a lot of history on several levels in this movie: the reference to former Confederates emigrating to CA after the Civil War, a slightly off-color racial joke that some might find offensive, and some others I won't spoil for cinematic spelunkers. But, don't sell this movie short: watch it, enjoy it, and hope for its restoration so its several qualities can shine through its more gravelly parts.