Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Nevada (1944 Remake)

If you want to see Robert Mitchum’s first major role in the movies, watch Nevada, where the opening credit says “Introducing Bob Mitchum.”  After viewing this black-and-white, just over an hour 1944 film, it’s easy to understand why he became a star.

Nevada opens with three men sitting on horses, Lacy (Bob Mitchum), Dusty (Guinn “Big Boy” Williams), and Chito (Richard Martin) listening to Chito sing and strum a guitar.  Dusty criticizes his singing and says, “You foreigners butcher it.”  To which Chito replies, “All kinds of people make up this country.”  He then says his mother was Mexican, his father Irish and his full name is Chito Jose Gonzalez Bustamante Rafferty.  "Pretty good American, no?”  For a movie made in 1944, in the middle of World War II, I thought his comments were really interesting and showed an awareness of the positive effect of ethnic diversity which I wouldn’t have expected from a film of that time period.


The three men watch a wagon train roll by; Lacy rides over and discovers it’s heading to Sun Mountain in Nevada where someone named Comstock (Emmett Lynn) has staked out a big bonanza.  Dusty dissuades Lacy from heading there because he says Comstock has never found anything of worth. The scene shifts to Gold Hill, as named on a title card, and an old geezer who turns out to be Comstock, nicknamed Pancake.  He and another man go into an office and write up a claim that the other has bought.  It was sometimes confusing following all the scene changes in Nevada as all the plot threads were explicated.

In another scene shift, the audience sees an out-of-control stagecoach being driven, sort of, by a woman with several other women passengers screaming in fright.  We’re back with the three cowpokes and Lacy gallops off to save the women.  The driver turns out to be Julie Dexter (Anne Jeffreys), the woman referred to by the man taking Pancake’s claim in the office in the previous scene.  Of course Lacy saves the women and Julie renames him “Nevada.”  He gets a faraway look in his eyes.

From there, the plot involves Lacy in a saloon gambling with his trusty sidekicks Dusty and Chito (Three Musketeers, anyone?) and winning $7,000 to the dismay of the dealer who promptly tries to steal the money back.  Splitting up from his friends, Lacy witnesses a wagon being bushwhacked.  Meanwhile – there are many meanwhiles in this movie! – Julie brings a letter to the land claims man, whose name is Cash Burridge -- Nevada is not especially subtle -- and they discover that Comstock hasn’t discovered gold but silver.  Burridge, however, want to keep it quiet for the time being and even though she disagrees, Julie goes along because she loves Cash.

With lots of short scenes interweaving the stories of Lacy, Julie, Dusty and Chito, Cash and his subordinate Powell, and the children of the murdered man, Hattie and Marvie, Nevada is never short of excitement even if some of the strands of the story are predictable.  There is lots of action and even a couple surprises.  The acting is good and Pancake’s comic antics provide levity throughout.  I did think the ending was abrupt, though; it seemed like the film was trying to end on a poetic note but it fell flat for me.


An off-hand comment reveals that the setting of Nevada is before it was a territory or a state, which means the movie’s events occurred before 1861.  Since the plot concerns the Comstock Lode, which was discovered in 1859, that makes sense.  However, a few phrases that stuck out are anachronisms (according to the online dictionaries I consulted):
* do what one little dogie told another another – git along: dogie was first used 1885 – 1890
* dry gulched: first use 1865 - 1870
* get down to cases: first use 1892
* jughead: first use 1925
Another phrase whose origin I couldn’t pin down was slick-fingered sidewinder. But regardless of whether Dusty’s exclamation that “We’re just a couple of low characters in high heels” is anachronistic or not, it’s a great comment that describes the light-hearted tone of Nevada perfectly. 


Nevada shows Robert Mitchum off very well.   In fact, after one of the many fights, there’s a glimpse of Mitchum with his shirt ripped open to his waist.  However, the view immediately cuts to a scene showing him fully dressed again and that is more in keeping with the tone of this movie.

This Nevada is a remake of a 1927 movie of the same name.  Both are based on a book by Zane Grey.  There are three bonus features on the DVD and one of them has Luke Grey, his son, presenting a pair of home movies about Zane Grey's fishing exploits.  Since it's about 50 minutes long, fishing isn't one of my interests, and the language used in the intro was very dated, I didn't watch it.  Another bonus feature, entitled "Fisherman's Pluck," runs about 8 minutes but I skipped that as well.  The third bonus feature was a 28-minute biography of Zane Grey produced in 1985, which I did watch and found informative.