User Reviews (6)

Add a Review

  • If you enjoy the late Beery westerns made for MGM (Bad Bascome, Jack, etc) then this will be a particular pleasure. Mercifully free of the cute moppets that blight some of Beery's other starring vehicles, 20 Mule Team provides excellent entertainment value, as well as surprising quality.

    As Beery grew older and took on more westerns, so he came to look much more of a natural western star. His face become more lined and resigned, until by the time of the 40's his exterior (and acting abilities) gave his western roles a weary gravitas - recalling that achieved by a similarly ageing Randolph Scott in his acclaimed cycle of film with director Budd Boetticher a decade or so later (The Tall T, Ride Lonesome etc.)

    20 Mule Team must be one of those few westerns which deals with borax transportation and exploitation as a central plot point. But don't let this put you off as, despite a somewhat melodramatic plot (evil stranger preys on local virgin, claim jumpers & etc) the weaknesses are more than offset by the strength of the location cinematography for the exterior scenes, and Beery's presence and range. Here he has the opportunity to display his talent to the utmost, playing by turn a hard nosed villain, sentimental buddy, comic louse and clumsy lover all the while as the camera revels gratefully in his lumbering presence.

    Overall the characters in the film are dominated by the stark landscape of desert and rocks which lays outside the Borax mining town ... a contrast of light and shade, black and white, that reflects back in turn the stark moral choices open to the inhabitants.

    In the most impressive scene in the film, Beery resigns himself to death in the desert after a shoot out with the villain. His friend (played throughout with characteristic irony by familiar Beery side kick Leo Carrillo) has been mortally wounded, and dies while he watches. Wounded himself, he settles down on his own, into the scorched sand and curses the blasted landscape believing (as we do then) all hope lost. The camera watches Beery, blankly verbally assailing the wilderness condemning him for a long minute, slowly tracking back in a single take. This movement is both beautiful and moving, emphasising the starkness of his fate. Whether intended or not, this powerful scene also recalls the end of Stroheim's Greed, and is an extraordinary moment in a studio product of this sort.

    Beery's Westerns are overdue for reassessment.
  • I agree completely that Beery's westerns deserve reassessment. All reviews are, of course, subjective so w/ that said, I stand up and cheer for this movie. It may be "formula" but that don't mean it's just another western (didn't I hear somewhere that there are really only seven basic plots anyway?).. Beery as a western hero is like no other: big, brawling, boozing, foolish, canny, tougher than leather, dedicated, out for himself, loyal to his friends, don't ever mistreat the weak in his presence, funny as hell, and, you know it, mighty darn good with a gun. And Leo Carrillo is the perfect partner/sidekick. Yeah, the plot focus could've easily been gold or silver, or even oil--happens to be borax in Death Valley and Beery & Carrillo are muleskinners. It's how the story is told. This movie's a humdinger. BEERY's WESTERNS DESERVE TO BE ON DVD! Oh yes--and Tugboat Annie, Min and Bill, Stablemates, Hell Divers........
  • Ordinary western hews to the standard Beery persona and is rife with stereotypes.

    More interesting for its cast than anything in its script. It has only the most tangential association with how the original 20 Mule Teams actually ran, the setting is just a device to pin the story on.

    Beery is the grizzled sad sack that he always played when he found himself in chaps but if you like him then you know what to expect. What is of more interest is seeing him costarring with his real life nephew Noah Beery, Jr., in their only appearance together. Anne Baxter makes her debut, only 17 at the time she's a bit callow but self possessed in front of the camera and it's clear she would go far. The standout in the cast is Marjorie Rambeau, she's better than the standard material deserves actually.

    Best for Beery fans but anyone who likes westerns won't find it too bad.
  • I am not usually a fan of Wallace Beery movies. Instead of playing a variety of characters, he usually plays the same phony sort of image MGM created for him....basically a gruff but lovable teddy bear. What makes it worse is that in real life, he was one of the nastiest celebrities of his day...and many actors and actresses who knew him couldn't stand him. Now I can watch one of his films and distance myself from who Beery was off screen...but the image MGM created of him was awfully predictable and saccharine. Because of this, I was THRILLED to see "20 Mule Team"...a film where he didn't just play the same sort of guy...and where I got an excellent history lesson.

    First, about the history lesson, I had no idea that in the late 19th century Death Valley was being exploited for the borax industry. With new detergents and chemicals and cosmetics needing borax, enterprising folks were willing to enter this inhospitable region in search of the salt. And, I also had no idea that there were different grades of borax. You never hear about any of this in old westerns...other than this one. And, considering how most western movies are derived from perhaps 4 or 5 different plots, it's nice to see something original.

    The story begins with Skinner Bill Bragg (Beery) and his partner, Piute Pete (Leo Carillo), returning from another run to Death Valley for borax. Surprisingly, however, the company now refuses to buy any more, as there are apparently higher quality borax producers around the world. So, unless something happens soon, there will be no work.

    A bit later Bill and Pete discover a dead old prospector when they go back into Death Valley. They think nothing of it, but the dead man has borax on him...and of the highest quality. When an old, and evil, acquaintance of Bill's sees the stuff, he knows it will make whoever finds the stuff rich. Bill does not trust Stag Roper, but he cannot say anything because Stag knew Bill long ago...when he was a wanted man named Ambrose. And, because of this, Bill is helpless to warn the folks around him that Stag is a bad egg. Where does all this go next? See the film.

    Unlike most Beery films, this one is not sentimental nor syrupy. Instead, it's tough, very well written and the perfect vehicle for the guy. Because it was so different and unusual, I also give the film high marks. Well worth seeing.
  • This unremarkable film follows the exploits of borax miner Beery, and his Piute sidekick Carillo, in Death Valley as the 19th century winds down. The storyline is rather arbitrary--the promise of discovering a "motherlode" of borax could just as easily have been about gold or silver in another setting entirely--as Beery allies with oily Fowley (so memorable as the frustrated film director in "Singin' In The Rain") and later turns against him when his motives are made clearer. The perfunctory storyline could have been set in any-Western-town-USA and unfortunately does little to exploit the fascinating historical aspect of Death Valley, California. On the other hand, most of the exteriors were shot on location in Death Valley (in the winter, I hope) and the unique scenery is understandably spectacular in glorious black and white.

    Baxter is lovely in her film debut, though her character's presence is little more than an excuse to dislike Fowley even more than we do. Beery is his usual blustery self so his fans will not be disappointed. But the film is, alas, just another cookie-cutter western that Hollywood churned out so frequently in the 30's and 40's; in other words, an inoffensive time-filler.
  • 20 Mule Team is one of the few westerns to deal with the mining of alkali salt in the place which is best known for it continental USA, Death Valley, California. It's the lowest point on the North American continent with heat the equivalent of what our troops are dealing with now in the Middle East.

    Wallace Beery plays a former outlaw who has been living in the area around Death Valley and eking out a living as a miner of this salt with sidekick Leo Carrillo. But one day along comes Douglas Fowley who's an outlaw from the old days now with a confidence scheme in mind to corner the market in Death Valley and he wants Beery in on it lest he rat him out to the law because Beery has a price on his head.

    Bilking the suckers isn't all Fowley has in mind. He's also on the make for Anne Baxter who is the daughter of saloon owner Marjorie Rambeau who Beery has an on again off again thing going. Kind of like his relationships with Marie Dressler and Marjorie Main in other films.

    The location shooting in Death Valley is the best thing the film has going for it, especially the climatic shootout with Beery and Fowley.

    What truly spoils 20 Mule Team is an obviously tacked on ending which made it a happy one. I can't say more, but if you watch 20 Mule Team I'm sure you'll agree.