This big-budget TechniColor Western from Paramount opens in shopworn fashion as Barbara Stanwyck’s shady lady with a past gets run out of town and has to ride off with an intolerant herd of California-bound settlers led by Ray Milland’s shady matey with a past. But when news of the Gold Rush hits camp, our pioneers drop everything to race off and make their fortune. It’s goodbye WAGONMASTER, hello PAINT YOUR WAGON! Stanwyck now owns herself a fancy saloon, Milland is prospecting for nuggets and a dastardly George Coulouris has come on the scene to buy up all of California and masochistically woo the disinterested Babs. And that’s when the California Statehood convention comes into the picture. Now it’s goodbye PAINT YOUR WAGON, hello OKLAHOMA! (Does this explain the elaborate musical set pieces & songs from Earl Robinson & ‘Yip’ Harburg?) There’s real ambition in the design of the film, but it looks as if somebody got cold feet. John Farrow, always an uneven director, shoots a lot of the dialogue scenes in daringly long takes, but then can’t be bothered to integrate the action sequences with the multiplying storylines. (Maybe he was up nights with baby Mia.) Well, it’s big, it’s colorful and only Barry Fitzgerald’s wise & cuddly vintner is complete hooey.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Try C. B. De Mille's UNION PACIFIC/'39 to see Stanwyck in a big, plotty, Paramount studio lot Western.