- Directed by William C. McGann
- May 31, 1942 (US)
A Boston pharmacist sets up shop in Sacramento and comes into conflict with a local criminal as a romantic triangle forms.
In Old California is another John Wayne Western romcom. Maybe it’s because I’m familiar with the rough and tumble character he was in later movies, but I have trouble buying Wayne as a pharmacist. Even in this movie he looks like he wants to chase ladies and maybe get in a fistfight for poops and giggles.
This is a little over 80 minutes and at points rushes through things to get to the end. There is not too much breathing room between events. Tom Craig (John Wayne) shows up in Sacramento, runs afoul of Britt Dawson (Albert Dekker) for carrying Lacey Miller (Binnie Barnes) across a mud puddle and is immediately smitten with her. Tom teams up with sidekick Kegs (Edgar Kennedy), strikes a deal with Lacey to sell his pharmaceuticals in her store, and begins a relationship with Ellen Sanford (Helen Parrish) before understanding Lacey is the one for him. And that does not cover everything in the story!
Ellen is actually a genuine romantic threat to Lacey when it comes to the heart of Tom. I honestly thought whatever feelings were there between Tom and Lacey would not amount to anything romantic but one decision on Ellen’s part screwed that. But given the setup it felt like Lacey was almost a narrative consolation prize.
If you think Britt Dawson is genuine competition for Tom think again. However Britt is willing to play dirty and rather underhanded since he not as manly as Tom. Being a pharmacist Tom has an elixir tonic (whatever that is) which Britt spikes with excessive laudanum to poison patients. Tom gets accused of murder and nearly hanged in a moment of mob justice in a romcom. It was not unusual for movies to veer off like that before getting back but why this was okay as an element of storytelling I will never know.
There is a disease outbreak that kicks off the finale and I like how Tom just points out the facts to get people to do the right thing rather than offer some emotional motivational speech. The scared people want to flee. Tom points out that they are probably sick already but have no symptoms. So rather than run and die they should stay and help until help for them comes.
Wayne and company turn in charming performances. This is nothing deep or sophisticated, but their talent coupled with the directing makes this go down rather easy The dialogue is bouncy and at points rather witty. Even the turns towards serious and the correction come off seamlessly. This was meant to be your crowd pleaser and nothing deep or sophisticated.
In Old California is nothing special but it’s nothing terrible. It’s no better or worse than your average Lifetime or Hallmark movie. I think if you like those then you’ll like this as well.