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In Old California(1942)
Boston pharmacist Tom Craig comes to Sacramento, where he runs afoul of local political boss Britt Dawson, who exacts protection payment from the citizenry. Dawson frames Craig with ...
For more about In Old California and the In Old California Blu-ray release, see In Old California Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on June 27, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: John Wayne, Binnie Barnes, Albert Dekker, Patsy Kelly, Dick Purcell, Harry Shannon
Director: William C. McGann
» See full cast & crew
In Old California Blu-ray Review
John Wayne on drugs?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, June 27, 2013
If you came here in search of In Old Arizona, we're actually one state to the left and with a decided lack of singing cowboys (rather ironic in that In Old California's star John Wayne appeared as Singin' Sandy Saunders in several early films, albeit dubbed since Duke evidently couldn't carry a tune in a bucket). In Old California is a 1942 effort that finds Wayne in a rather unusual role, but for once the attempt to shoehorn him into an unaccustomed environment doesn't seem forced or make the star ill at ease. It's one of the great ironies in film history that Republic Pictures found itself with a bona fide superstar after Wayne burst into mainstream prominence in Stagecoach, and yet the fledgling B-movie factory never seemed to know quite how to capitalize on Wayne's new fame. The glut of Republic releases that Olive has been bringing out on Blu-ray is testament to this rather strange state of affairs. Wayne was either thrust into okay but hardly overly memorable westerns like Dark Command or a slew of historical dramas like Three Faces West or even relatively modern day fare like A Man Betrayed. In many of these Wayne was cast against what would later become type, but just as often Republic shoved him into totally forgettable fare like The Three Mesquiteers "shorts" (typically clocking in at around an hour or so) which continued to be churned out for some time after Stagecoach trundled on the scene. In Old California is perhaps one of the oddest roles Wayne undertook during this era, but the good news is that as much as a verbose, almost foppish at times, pharmacist might seem to be antithetical to everything Wayne stood for and usually portrayed, the actor does remarkably well in the film.
In Old California starts out with that great staple of westerns, the bar fight, the sort of rock 'em, sock 'em opening gambit where you might expect to see John Wayne taking on a horde of rowdy drunkards and emerging basically unscathed. And yet, there's no Wayne in sight, until a kind of quasi-bouncer "escorts" a guy out of the establishment, at which point we see a veritable dandy walk in. That's John Wayne? Well, it is in this film, where Wayne portrays Bostonian Tom Craig, a pharmacist ("that's druggist to you," he patiently edifies a Californian) who has arrived in San Francisco not necessarily in search of riches (more about that later), but to "find himself" and what he wants to do with his life. Craig makes an immediate impression on the bar folk by bending a coin with his bare hands, which is probably short hand for "I may be very well dressed, and speak well, but I'm no wuss".
Craig also proves his mettle right off the bat by treating a codger with a toothache. Kegs McKeever (Edgar Kennedy) is usually docile as a lamb, but oral pain turns him into a lumbering lion of violence, so much so that the townsfolk run in terror whenever Kegs is marauding about with a cloth wrapped around his jaw. (This is perhaps oddly the second Olive release of a Republic Wayne film that has a dental subtext. The other one is Dark Command.) When Kegs doesn't even want to let Tom swab his tooth with a pain killer, Tom brings out a bit of chloroform, treats his reluctant patient, and then sets out on a river boat trip to Sacramento.
(I am neither a scholar of California history nor a particular student of its geography, but the fact that Tom boards a river boat from San Francisco to Sacramento struck me as a bit odd. Did the Sacramento River really used to transport travelers in such a manner? It's especially odd since what appears to be stock footage seems to show a paddlewheel trundling down the Mississippi. But I digress.)
On his way to the boat Tom, gallant city dweller that he is, scoops a hesitant young woman up in his arms and carries her across a muddy street, only to be cold cocked by the woman's fiancÚ. We are therefore introduced to the two other main characters of the film, blowsy entertainer Lacey Miller (Binnie Barnes) and her brutish boyfriend Britt Dawson (Albert Dekker). Tom has an annoying habit of interjecting himself between these two which crops up again on the actual boat ride, when Tom stops Britt from harming a rancher whom Britt is trying to force into an unwanted land share. This time Tom doesn't just get cold cocked, he gets cold, as Britt's henchmen toss him into the Sacramento River. Kegs follows under his own volition in solidarity (as well as perhaps a bit of fear).
Tom and Kegs do of course ultimately make it to Sacramento, but Britt has tried to scare the townsfolk away from cooperating with them, and the would be pharmacist can't find a place to rent to set up shop. That all changes when he discovers that the last available place he might be able to rent is owned by none other than Lacey, and Lacey herself is not shy about her ability to keep Britt in check, not to mention her more than platonic interest in Tom. Tom does set up shop, and actually does very well, using Lacey's sarcastic maid Helga (the wonderful Patsy Kelly) as help, which allows a comedic romantic subplot between her and Kegs to develop.
At this point a number of kind of strange elements enter the film. With Lacey more or less promised to Britt, for better or worse, that would seem to remove her as a romantic interest for Tom. And so a sweet young thing named Ellen Sanford (Helen Parrish) shows up and instantly wins Tom's heart. This only leads Lacey to display increasing jealousy. That in turn sets off Britt, who tries to frame Tom for murder by doctoring his "tonic". Tom is about to be hung by a lynch mob when a discovery of gold suddenly sets the film off on a strange third act that combines the California Gold Rush with contagious disease. It's a peculiar assemblage of ideas and plot points, one that perhaps is too convoluted for its own good, especially when the film attempts to wrap up a number of fairly messy plot points in a cascading series of developments in the final ten minutes.
Against considerable odds, In Old California does rather well based largely on the strength of its performance, not the least of which is the surprisingly effective turn by Wayne in one of the more unusual roles from this era of his long career. Barnes does a nice job tiptoeing between hard as nails ruthlessness and a more vulnerable quality, and Dekker is kind of fun as a kind of dunderheaded villain who ends up having a few redeeming characteristics. Kelly is hysterical as Helga. Anyone who's had to suffer through too much housework will heartily approve of the way she takes down her laundry in one of the film's biggest laughs.
In Old California Blu-ray, Video Quality
In Old California is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.37:1. If I had the ability to score these films in quarter points, I'd probably opt for 3.75 for this transfer, as aside from a perhaps above average amount of speckles and other minor damage affecting quite a few scenes, things look really good here. Contrast is very strong for the most part (a couple of isolated scenes look just slightly blown out) and the image is mostly stable and well detailed. There's some pretty significant telecine wobble in the opening and closing credits, and in fact it looks like the closing credits were cobbled together from a secondary source. There are also one or two incidences of what looks like just minor shrinkage, with some associated warping, but it's very brief and minimal.
In Old California Blu-ray, Audio Quality
In Old California's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track sounds good considering its age. There's little of the distortion that has haunted some of these Olive Republic catalog releases, but there's a perhaps more than usually boxy sound throughout some of this track, especially with regard to the music. That said, dialogue is very cleanly presented and there's no outright damage to report.
In Old California Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements are offered on this Blu-ray disc.
In Old California Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The comedy probably works more consistently than the drama in In Old California, but the film is brisk and enjoyable and has a very enjoyable cast all doing great work. Wayne fans may find this to be one of The Duke's most appealing characterizations from this period, especially notable because the role is so unusual for the actor. Recommended.
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