- Directed by Mack V. Wright
- December 17, 1932
Two people receive a mysterious letter inviting them to a town with an abandoned mine where they contend with bad guys looking for gold and are aided by a mysterious phantom.
Haunted Gold came out in the days before John Wayne became a screen icon. Way before. At this point he was just a working stiff taking what parts he could get in an attempt to make a name for himself. In that spirit he took this low budget film which is much more like an episode of the original Scooby-Doo than it is anything fans of John Wayne are familiar with.
The story involves a mysterious phantom trying to scare people away from a mine that John Mason (John Wayne) and his eventual love interest Janet Carter (Sheila Terry) share a deed to. As with any Scooby-Doo caper the phantom involved is not really a phantom but a flesh and blood human being who turns out to be the sole female characters father. The costume though is beyond crappy.
This follows what appears to be the usual trope of early John Wayne starring vehicles. His character is essentially a stranger returning to a town he lived in during his youth and he is there to claim something that is his. In this case it is a mine but, in this case, a mysterious message has summoned him back to town.
While John does not fall head over heels for the first woman he sees he does begin to hit on the first woman he meets. Then again, Janet is pretty much the only woman you see in this film. She happens to be the daughter of John’s father’s missing business partner.
This is one of the few credited rolls of Blue Washington who here plays John’s sidekick/self-appointed bodyguard Clarence Washington Brown. In real life Blue Washington was a former Negro League baseball player that turned to acting. Often he played porters or bellhops or slaves or natives such as in the original King Kong. Interestingly he got the nickname “Blue” from the legendary Frank Capra when both were children. More interestingly his son Kenny broke the color barrier in the NFL in 1946.
In this film Washington is John Wayne’s comedic sidekick. The character is depicted using many racial stereotypes of the era. It is very cringe worthy. Haunted Gold in that aspect was very much a product of its time and whether you like it or not designed to appeal to what executives in Hollywood felt was the dominant movie going audience.
The film was made two years before the institution of the Hollywood production code and contains if a few racial slurs at the expense of the Clarence character. It is also a remake of an earlier 1928 film called The Phantom City. So Hollywood has obviously had a thing for remakes for quite a bit. It is nothing new.
Haunted Gold film is a little under an hour. Unlike other John Wayne short films that I have seen it does not move that fast. At least not at a breakneck speed. They pack a lot in, but it just does not careen near uncontrollably from the start to finish. The story is scaled down much more. Then again, the cast is rather limited in comparison to some other movies.
The main villain of Joe Ryan (Harry Woods) in this film however is not the mysterious ghost but rather the leader of a criminal gang that is trying to find the remaining gold in the mine. The statements by those in the area is that the mine is played out but Ryan believes the contrary.
The story is nothing substantive and the acting is mostly passable. It is just a light and fun adventure. The most memorable thing about this is the unfortunate depiction of the character of Clarence Brown. The rest of the movie is mostly forgettable other than the use of speeding up the frame rate to make the characters appear to move faster. I know this is supposed to be a comedy but that never looks good.
Haunted Gold is an entertaining yet forgettable film from John Wayne’s early career. For fans of Duke Morrison this is a must see but for the casual moviegoer you can probably skip it.