Western pardners Jeff and Cash find a baby boy in an otherwise deserted emigrants’ camp, and clash over which is to be “father.” They are still bitterly feuding years later when they own adjacent ranches. Bill, the foundling whom Cash has raised to young manhood, wants to end the feud and extends an olive branch toward Jeff, who now has a lovely daughter. But during a mining venture, the bitterness escalates. Is Bill to be set against his own adoptive father?
Rod Crawford <[email protected]>
User Reviews: The Painted Desert is best remembered as Clark Gable’s first substantial role for good reason. The future King of Hollywood’s natural, dynamic style of acting stands out in this extremely creaky early talkie Western. In an unrewarding heavy role Gable speaks in his trademark relaxed, cocky manner, while other, more experienced actors such as J. Farrell MacDonald, early silent era star William Farnum, and a stiff-as-a-board Bill Boyd deliver their lines one distinctly enunciated word at a time as if speaking toward a microphone hidden in a cactus. Admittedly Boyd wasn’t much of an actor in spite of his good looks and sunny disposition, but MacDonald and Farnum were. Blame an under-financed sound department and uninspired direction by Howard Higgins, who also co-wrote the murky script for this lumbering oater. Those who would excuse the stiff direction and acting as caused by unavoidable problems with early sound equipment should first take a look at Joseph Von Sternberg’s Morocco (1930), released the year before The Painted Desert, but showing a marvelously sophisticated and artistically pleasing use of sound. Other than Gable, the only other actors who managed to rise above the restraints of the over-compensating sound technicians and Higgin’s stodgy direction were gorgeous leading lady Helen Twelvetrees and Boyd’s beautiful white horse.
That’s not to say that The Painted Desert doesn’t have some good points — especially for die-hard Western fans. Most of the low, low budget must have been spent carting the actors, crew, and equipment around several scenic Arizona locations, including the sure-enough Painted Desert. Sets by art director Carrol Clark and costumes by Gwen Wakeling were well turned out and authentic looking. Oldblackandwhite, who is one of the vanishing breed of Texans still preferring the Stetson style to the ubiquitous Beaver Cleaver ball cap, wishes he could find the hatter Ms. Wakeling used for this picture. The sets and costumes, along with a folksy, real-to-life dialog, as plodding as the delivery was, gave the movie an authentically quaint, rustic 19th century ambiance missing in many a better produced Western.
Best of all, and almost worth the price of a DVD — a cheap one anyway — was having a tense, climactic, sixgun showdown between two elderly gentlemen! But there wasn’t much else to get excited about in The Painted Desert. Mainly for curiosity seekers, dedicated Clark Gable fans, fanatical Western aficionados, and the usual desperate insomniacs. Neither the best nor the worst from Old Hollywood’s Classic Era.