Review: William McGann’s “In Old California,” Starring John Wayne

Edgar Kennedy, Harry Shannon, and John Wayne in
Edgar Kennedy, Harry Shannon, and John Wayne in "In Old California"

After wrapping production on The Spoilers, John Wayne quickly moved on to another Western about the Gold Rush. But In Old California was a far cheaper production, and it shows. Wayne is typically charming, and some of the comic relief works, but only the cast distinguishes this film from any other low-budget cowboy movie made by Republic Pictures at the time.

Wayne plays Tom Craig, a pharmacist from Boston who comes to Sacramento during the California Gold Rush to set up a drugstore. He makes an enemy in Britt Dawson (Albert Dekker), a brutish saloon-owner whose fiancée, Lacey Miller (Binnie Barnes), takes an interest in Craig. There are all the requisite gunfights, chases on horseback, and comic relief–drunkards that come with this kind of movie—and absolutely no surprises. Patsy Kelly and Edgar Kennedy are diverting enough as goofy sidekicks, but the film still drags at less than ninety minutes.

Audiences were given In Old California and The Spoilers within the same month, and it’s hard to imagine anyone having a hard time choosing between the two. Thankfully, it seems Republic president Herbert Yates finally realized what an asset Wayne was, and invested more in the star with his next picture at the studio, Flying Tigers.

Where to Watch

Buy it on Blu-ray / DVD

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For More on In Old California

Read the review in The New York Times