27 January 2019 | lugonian
Oil This, and Gushers, too
FLOWING GOLD (Warner Brothers, 1940), directed by Alfred E. Green, is not in reference about gold flowing above water, but about men working in the oil fields with oil being termed as flowing gold. Noted as being the studio's answer to a similar but bigger budget all-star two-hour production of BOOM TOWN (1940) starring Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert and Hedy Lamarr, FLOWING GOLD is of lesser scale (at 81 minutes), starring John Garfield, Pat O'Brien and Frances Farmer (on loan from Paramount) as main attractions. Though suggested on the story by Rex Beach, much of the plot strays from the author's novel and possibly the earlier 1924 First National Pictures silent production of the same name starring Milton Sills and Anna Q. Nilsson.
FORWARD: "OIL! Black, liquid gold flowing from the Earth ...! OIL! Stored by nature a million years ago - bringing to man a new civilization! OIL! Black gold, locked deep in the Earth, has challenged man's imagination. Man took up the challenge and sank steel shafts to tap the reservoirs of this strange power ... Flowing Gold -" For this new and updated adaptation edition, the story opens outside an oil company where Johnny Blake (John Garfield), along with other men, awaiting all night for the establishment to open at 7 a.m to apply for work. After spotting a couple of officers showing posters of him (WANTED FOR MURDER: John Alexander), Johnny runs away, ending up at another oil field miles down the road. Though Hap O'Connor (Pat O'Brien) a tough foreman, recognizes him as a fugitive from justice, rather than calling the police to have him arrested, Hap gives him the job in the oil fields instead. After Johnny saves Hap from getting injured or killed by Collins (Edward Pawley), a drunken crew member he just fired, Hap and Johnny form a bonding friendship. Because Hap knows of Johnny's murder history being in self defense, he tries talking him into giving himself up and face trial, but Johnny feels he would be found guilty anyway and having to serve a prison term. As Johnny finds another officer hot on his trail, he drifts away. Hap and his crew, including Hot Rocks (Cliff Edwards) and Petunia (Tom Kennedy), however, leave their present job out west for another oil field job at the Village of Eagle's Neck. While working under Ellery Q. "Wildcat" Chalmers (Raymond Walburn), Hap is reunited with the old man's daughter, Linda (Frances Farmer), who loves him. Later, Johnny enters the scene, working for Wildcat's opposition, Charles Hammond (Granville Bates). His meeting with Linda gets off to a bad start after assisting getting her stuck car out of the mud and nick-naming her "freckle nose." Now working for Hap, Johnny becomes Hap's best worker, until friction comes between them for their love of Linda. Others in the cast are Jody Gilbert (Tillie, the lady barber); Frank Mayo (Mike Brannigan); Virginia Sale (The Nurse) and John Alexander (The Sheriff).
Typical with totally familiar material throughout, FLOWING GOLD is agreeable entertainment from the old school of motion pictures, thanks to its fine cast and action oil field sequences. Pat O'Brien once more assumes his duty as one of those tough but "swell guys," as he did with John Garfield earlier in the prison melodrama, CASTLE ON THE HUDSON (1940) with Garfield as the prisoner and O'Brien as his caring warden. O'Brien and Garfield work well together, though their teaming is not as memorable as O'Brien's work opposite another movie wiseacre, James Cagney. It should be noted that O'Brien earlier co-starred in a similar oil-well themed drama titled FLAMING GOLD (RKO Radio, 1933) opposite William Boyd and Mae Clarke, with titles that could stir up confusion.
As much as the female lead for FLOWING GOLD might have been played by Warner Brothers' contract players as Ann Sheridan being the top contender, Priscilla Lane or simple-minded Gale Page, Frances Farmer gets her chance to act opposite John Garfield on screen for the only time. They were better known at that time for their stage production to Clifford Odets' "Golden Boy," which was later transferred to the screen in 1939 by Columbia Pictures starring Barbara Stanwyck and newcomer, William Holden. Though GOLDEN BOY did make an overnight star out of Holden, it would have been a wonder how the movie version might have turned out had Garfield and Farmer appeared in the screen version instead. This will never be known. Because Garfield and Farmer did appear in FLOWING GOLD could be the sole reason for this film's interest entirely, considering how they both perform well in a natural manner acting style. Raymond Walburn, Cliff Edwards, Tom Kennedy and Jody Gilbert lend loyal support in both straight and comedic performances to brighten up the situations.
Never distributed to video cassette but available on DVD, FLOWING GOLD did have its TV broadcast history first on commercial television during the after midnight hours late show presentations before going towards cable TV's Turner Network Television (late 1980s) and Turner Classic Movies where this and all of John Garfield/Warner Brothers features can be seen and enjoyed. (*** oil gushers).