|20 MULE TEAM (director: Richard Thorpe; screenwriters: Cyril Hume/Richard Maibaum/E. E. Paramore/from a story by Robert C. DuSoe and Owen Atkinson; cinematographer: Clyde DeVinna; editor: Frank Sullivan; music: David Snell; cast: Wallace Beery (Skinner Bill Bragg), Leo Carrillo (Piute Pete), Marjorie Rambeau (Josie Johnson), Ann Baxter (Jean Johnson), Douglas Fowley (Stag Roper), Noah Beery Jr. (Mitch), Berton Churchill (Jackass Brown), Clem Bevans (Chuckwalla), Charles Halton (Adams), Eddy Waller (Horsecollar), Arthur Hohl (Salters), Minor Watson (marshal); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: J. Walter Ruben; MGM; 1940-B/W)|
|"A film mostly for Wallace
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Richard Thorpe ("Tarzan Escapes"/"The Crowd Roars") adequately directs. It's written by Cyril Hume, Richard Maibaum and E. E. Paramore, based on a story by Robert C. DuSoe and Owen Atkinson.
It's 1892 in Furnace Flat, California, and muleskinner Billy Bragg (Wallace Beery), a former outlaw, and his Indian partner Pete (Leo Carrillo) haul on their mule team borax they mined from Death Valley for the Desert Borax Company, which is about to go out of business and has not paid Billy his wages for a few months. Unable to pay for his room in the boardinghouse/saloon of Josie Johnson (Marjorie Rambeau), he's thrown out.
Meanwhile Josie's attractive teenage daughter Jean rejects her nice guy suitor Mitch (Noah Beery Jr., the nephew of Wallace) because he has no future working as a paymaster clerk for the borax company and she dreams of moving to Los Angeles.
The company has exhausted the supply of borax and the bank wants to call its note on the defunct business.
Things change when pure borax crystals are found by Bill next to an old-time prospector (Clem Bevans), who died in Death Valley.
An oily outsider smoothie, a stockholder in the borax company from San Francisco, Stag Roper (Douglas Fowley), gets to see the pouch of crystals Billy took off the dead prospector and talks the slow-witted Bill into becoming his partner and urges him to return to where the prospector was buried to steal his claim. Stag then plans to steal the claim for himself.
When Billy finds the claim, he learns the prospector was partners with his friend Mitch.
When the protective mom, Josie, catches her daughter planning to elope with the middle-aged Stag, she sees through the scoundrel and is determined to do anything to stop him from ruining the life of her naive daughter.
It plays out as a rowdy semi-western that caught my attention because of its unusual theme over borax. Otherwise it's a film mostly for Wallace Beery fans.
REVIEWED ON 6/11/2018 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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