Although it was one of the biggest epic movies Warner Brothers produced at the time, Gold Is Where You Find It (1938) is little remembered today, but with a top director, an excellent cast and beautiful color, it is a find worth digging up.
Warner Brothers’ second movie to be shot in the new, more lifelike process of three-strip Technicolor, Gold Is Where You Find It tells the true story of the battle between gold miners and farmers in Northern California during the 1870’s. George Brent stars as a mining engineer who falls in love with a farmer’s daughter (Olivia de Havilland). Claude Rains is her father who disapproves of miners and forbids Brent from courting her.
The romantic story, however, is quite secondary to the true and very realistically presented story of the ravages caused by the gold mining industry of that time. The original gold rush of the late 1840’s was long over and the lone prospector with his pan had been replaced by high-pressure water hoses, called “monitors,” that ripped the sides off mountains to uncover the ore. Sluices pulled the gold out of the water. The silt and dirt loosened from the mountains ran off into local rivers and streams.
The devastation from all that runoff caused an ecological catastrophe that has left the region damaged to this day. The amount of dirt that flowed downstream over a twenty-year period was the equivalent of several times the amount moved to create the Panama Canal. Farmlands were flooded, rivers were made unnavigable and all the trout and salmon in the streams of the Sierra Mountains were killed. The farmers whose land had been ruined fought back with state and federal lawsuits.
Oddly enough, Gold Is Where You Find It and the story on which it is based were connected to someone whose fortune originated in mines. Newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst ran the magazine, The Cosmopolitan, which first published the Clements Ripley story and his movie company, Cosmopolitan Productions, co-produced the movie with Warner Brothers through their First National Pictures division.
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