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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
In Old California (1942)

Tom Craig: She has a remarkablely sweet disposition.Lacey Miller: Yes, I've never met anything quite like it.
- John Wayne, Binnie Barnes

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: February 22, 2002

Stars: John Wayne, Binnie Barnes, Albert Dekker, Helen Parrish
Other Stars: Patsy Kelly, Edgar Kennedy, Dick Purcell, Harry Shannon, Charles Halton, Emmett Lynn, Robert McKenzie, Milton Kibbee, Paul Sutton, Anne O'Neal, Frank McGlynn Sr.
Director: William McGann

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (Western violence)
Run Time: 01h:27m:35s
Release Date: May 16, 2000
UPC: 017153100297
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-BB- D+

DVD Review

Coming to critical attention in John Ford's 1939 Stagecoach after over a decade in the industry, by 1942, John Wayne had risen above his typical B-movie roles into higher profile projects. A contract player at Republic Pictures, that year saw him playing opposite Marlene Dietrich and Randolph Scott in both The Spoilers and Pittsburgh, starring in Cecil B. DeMille's Reap the Wild Wind with Paulette Goddard and Ray Milland, and romancing Joan Crawford in Reunion in France. He would also play in the first of his many war films, The Flying Tigers. Contractually obligated to complete a final picture for Republic, Wayne chose the role of Tom Craig, a pharmacist, because it was his father's profession. In Old California introduces Wayne as a polite Bostonian gentleman, making his way to Sacramento to set up a pharmacy. While en route in San Francisco, he happens across Kegs McKeever (Edgar Kennedy), whose reputation for tearing the town apart when his toothache sets in is legendary. Able to relieve the pain with medication, Kegs becomes beholden to Craig, and joins him on his voyage. On the way to the ferry, Craig assists entertainment personality, Lacey Miller (Binnie Barnes), much to the chagrin of her fiancée, Britt Dawson (Albert Dekker), a swindling land baron who acquires his property through less than rightful means. When Craig disputes Dawson's tale of the events leading up to a shooting incident, he and his companion are tossed overboard, and Dawson warns of repercussions if anyone sides with Craig should he show up in Sacramento. Show up he does, and after finding there is no one willing to rent a shop to him on account of Dawson, Craig discovers one last location adjacent the saloon owned by Lacey Miller, who has taken a liking to "Boston," as she calls him. With an agreement to split the profits of his pharmacy, he sets up shop and his elixira become extremely popular. The local hoodlums in Dawson's gang warn him to make tracks, until Miller steps in and defends her interest in the store. Craig, an honorable man, pays no attentions to the advances of Miss Miller, instead preferring Ellen Sanford (Helen Parrish), a wealthy aristocrat from San Francisco—a move that ires Lacey, and sets up a rivalry between the two women. When Craig heads a revolt against Dawson's land-grabbing gang, Dawson is out for retribution, but is unable to openly oppose Craig, due to Lacey's threats to leave him if he does. None too happy with his fiancée's business—or other—interests in Craig, Dawson plans to set him up by tainting his medicines, but the onset of the gold rush presents other challenges for the community. It's a battle of personalities and emotions In Old California.The film gets lost in the dozens of Wayne features, as his character departs from his stereotypical screen persona with a quieter, pacifistic demeanor. Wayne carries himself well here, and his female costars do a good job squaring off for his attentions. Patsy Kelly also deserves mention for her spirited portrayal of Lacey's friend, Helga. Dialogue is decent, with a few good lines, and the bad guys use somewhat more devious means to achieve their goals than we might expect. The pacing works well, and the set up for the film's conclusion, while a bit too convenient, manages to create a different feel for the last part fo the picture, and go against the typical Wayne showdown with his enemy. There are no real surprises in the resolution, but for its dissimilarity with the John Wayne formula, this one makes at least a worthy rental.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Despite wording to the contrary on the packaging, In Old California is presented in its original full-frame aspect ratio. Just a touch on the soft side, greyscale rendition here is very good, with even tonal coverage, good texture detail, and no signs of interference patterns or cross coloration on complex patterns. The source print does contain some major defects including missed frames, scratches and tears, but they are fairly infrequent. There are dust and specks, but they too are relegated to specific scenes rather than contained throughout. The credit sequences seem to fare the worst, and the last reel has more blemishes than the rest of the film. Quite good overall, while showing some signs of its age, this was actually a lot better than expected.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Mono audio is relatively clear, though its optical origins are evident in the slightly oversaturated music sections, which hint at mild analogue distortion. Dialogue is easily discernable, and frequency range is limited, as is expected for a picture of this age. The final reel holds the only technical issues, with three brief, source induced dropouts and a bit of popping. There is some hiss present, but it isn't exagerated. For its age, this isn't bad at all.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: While extras are limited to production notes, these at least harken back to the early days of DVD when there was some meat to the information provided. An essay of moderate length covers a fair amount of ground, placing the film in historical contxt, outlining Wayne's reasons for doing the picture, and comparing it to some of his other work. A worthwhile inclusion.The grading reflects this being the only extra, but it at least has some educational value.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Notable for its deviation from the Wayne formula, In Old California deserves a watch for stretching The Duke's character. The last quarter contains most of the action, but those looking for machismo may be disappointed. Caught in a love triangle and faced with a mischievous villain, Wayne stays the course of the gentleman, yet summons the gumption when required in the days before the gold rush hit Sacramento.


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