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The Walking Hills

1949 | 4:3 | Black & White | Quality: Excellent

Randolph Scott, Ella Rainse, John Ireland


In the backroom of a tequila bar in a sleazy border town, a penny-ante poker game between several shady characters goes on. Among them are horse breeder Jim Carey (Randolph Scott), private detective Frezee (John Ireland), Willy (Edgar Buchanan), and Johnny (Jerome Courtland). Willy tells the group about a legend of a wagon train that was loaded with gold which went missing in the desert near them 100 years ago, the famed Walking Hills. Johnny remarks that the Walking Hills, while providing a shortcut through the desert, are notoriously dangerous and best avoided. He then tells the group how he was riding through recently and his horse tripped on an old wagon wheel and threw him... Silence as everyone exchanges glances, and they pressure Johnny into taking them to where his horse bucked him. The quest for gold is on, but the party is plagued by paranoia, distrust, greed, duplicity, and betrayal. In the desert amid the shifting sand dunes, the group struggles to locate the gold while weathering a vicious sandstorm and their own greed. There are a couple of surprises and director John Sturges maintains tension throughout this suspenseful, 75-minute, black & white saga.

In 1948 the blockbuster movie John Huston's "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" hit the big screen. This cinematic masterpiece took the entertainment world by storm and spawned several copies and variations including this early John Sturges flick. Randolph Scott headlines as the more or less moral center of the group, even if his intentions and actions seem to defy that description. For a slightly less than "A" feature, the film boasts an admirable cast of characters, among them Ella Raines, John Ireland, Arthur Kennedy, Edgar Buchanan (scene stealing as usual) and blues/folk revivalist singer Josh White whose musical contributions to the film capture a legendary performer for posterity. William Bishop, a young man whom Columbia was grooming for stardom (but who failed to click and would soon "descend" to mostly TV work) is the least familiar perhaps of the major actors, but he's impressive enough here for one to wish he had done better within the ten years that he had left before cancer took him at 41. In a book on the Films of Randolph Scott there's a story told about Ella Raines's husband Ransom Olds who was an air ace from the recent war and would be one again in Korea and Vietnam. It seems as though for a joke he buzzed the company on location. He thought it was funny, but the roaring jet passing over frightened all the horses and the wranglers spent the rest of the day rounding them up. Ella was not amused either, nor I'm sure was Harry Cohn.

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