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No rush for the Gold Rush
on 7 October 2015
I must say that, for a normal-length almost 2-hour film, this seemed to go on forever. A lot happens, not always to good effect. The movie looks gorgeous.
Thing is, it's a tale that could have been told in half the time, but here we have seasoned director Henry Hathaway (never a 'great director' but always a pro) encouraging his excellent cast to play what is a pleasing story as near-farce, emphasising the cartoon elements, and - even though it was a cliche way back in 1960 - giving Wayne a character who, despite his obvious worldliness, is scared of women, doesn't understand them, misunderstands them at every opportunity, etc, etc. Cue for much humourless 'farce' involving a rather good Stewart Granger (albeit absent for much of the film) who works well with Wayne, and their young sidekick, played as well as could be expected by teenage pop singer Fabian! He's not too bad at all - though not nearly so effective as Rick Nelson in Howard Hawks's Rio Bravo a year earlier. (Interesting to note that Elvis was not that much better an actor, even in his best films - eg. King Creole, Flaming Star - than his less charismatic peers.)
The Duke is superb in a role he could have played in his sleep, hog-tied and drunk and standing on one leg. Stewart Granger looks relaxed and genuinely happy for once, and Ernie Kovacs (who died, after a handful of films, aged 42) is an effectively slimy baddie, always on the lookout for a deviously good deal. We don't really see enough of him in the bulk of the film, which is a shame since his character could have been developed more than it is.
The best thing in the film - which by the way is set in Alaska during the Gold Rush - by quite a long way is the character of 'Angel' as played by French actress Capucine. She plays every scene totally truthfully, while obviously realising she is being asked to act out what is no more than hokum. But she is wonderful in fact, giving Wayne, Granger, Kovacs, and even Fabian something real to play off.
Capucine, a troubled woman by the sound of it, had a tragic end, hurling herself suicidally off a high balcony at the age of 62. She was a subtle and generous actress, and often rose above dire material (eg. What's New Pussycat). She is a fine foil for Wayne. He seems to know it too.
A very enjoyable film, if a negligible 'western', that is well directed by the rather stolid Hathaway, and acted with a kind of dogged relish by an eclectic cast. Worth seeing at least once. I'm hanging on to my copy, for a piquant reminder of Capucine, and for one more fragrant memory of John Wayne in his gallant prime.