This is the lavish but dull story of the man on whose land gold was discovered in California, and of how it destroyed him. Arnold is John Sutter, a political refugee from Switzerland who travels to New York, through Canada, and to Hawaii before ending up in California, where he obtains
land grants that give him all the land for a seven-days' ride in all directions. When gold is discovered in the water-race for a sawmill he owns, his empire disintegrates. Workers desert him, people stake their own claims out of his lands, his buildings are torn down for their wood, his crops and
orchards are burned, and his son is murdered while trying to defend the family holdings. Arnold catches gold fever as well, and deserts his wife (Alexander) in favor of a Russian countess, Barnes. He loses everything, though, and after returning to Alexander he spends the rest of his days as an
embittered old man, endlessly pestering the government to give him some sort of compensation. Based on a best-selling biography by Blaise Cendrars, the film was originally to have been directed by Sergei Eisenstein during his extended visit to Hollywood some years earlier, but the deal fell
through, as did all the projects that had been lined up for the great Russian filmmaker. Howard Hawks then took over the production, but as the costs rocketed, Hawks was replaced by James Cruze--director of the profitable silent classic THE COVERED WAGON (1923)--who eventually got screen credit.
Universal Studios head Carl Laemmle sank more than $2 million into this film, at a time when the studio's usual product cost less than $100,000. The film bombed on its initial release, was pulled, re-edited, re-released to even less interest, then taken out of circulation entirely. The disaster
was the final straw for Universal stockholders, who forced "Uncle Carl" to sell his interest in the company. Arnold's performance is lackluster and the film is too episodic to generate much interest. Barnes is rather good as the countess who almost lures Arnold away from his wife, but that subplot
comes and goes too quickly to make a difference. Fortunately the studio had a big hit that same year with SHOWBOAT, and this saved the disastrous reception for SUTTER'S GOLD from sinking the company entirely. The cautious studio production chiefs were not to experience a financial disaster of such
magnitude again until 1978's costly failure THE WIZ, although SUTTER'S GOLD more closely resembles the United Artists calamity of 1980, Michael Cimino's HEAVEN'S GATE, in its episodic style, lavish landscapes, and poor character development. Segments of SUTTER'S GOLD, originally released at 94
minutes, were seen in other Universal films, including MUTINY ON THE BLACKHAWK (1939).
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- Rating: NR
- Review: This is the lavish but dull story of the man on whose land gold was discovered in California, and of how it destroyed him. Arnold is John Sutter, a political refugee from Switzerland who travels to New York, through Canada, and to Hawaii before ending up i… (more)