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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

California (1947)



Reviews and Comments

The primary problem with this gritty western, California, is that we are never able to relate to its characters, who act strangely detached from reality. We see their actions, are told their motivation, and are expected to understand what makes them tick based on a purely intellectual knowledge of them. The film tells us so, and that should suffice. But it doesn't suffice. These are passionate characters. Ray Milland's is bitter and harsh in the beginning; later on, he confuses the pursuit of justice with the pursuit of revenge. Barbara Stanwyck's is full of hate for the world at large, which turns its collective nose up at her, unleashes that hatred on Milland, a man she sees as epitomizing all of that, yet becomes emotionally torn when she starts to fall in love with him. These kinds of emotions, and that actions they prompt, simply cannot be related to the audience with throwaway lines of dialogue. The villain is even worse, which is a shame, because his delusions in the climax of the movie might have been genuinely chilling. Here, we watch and say to ourselves, "Oh, it's the old loony evil schtick."

It's too bad, really, because the framework of the plot is moderately interesting. Stanwyck is run out of a town on moral grounds, so she joins a California-bound wagon train in spite of the protests of its guide, Ray Milland. She vows to run him into the ground, he ends up nearly doing the same to her, and the private feud gets tangled up in a megalomaniac and the heated politics surrounding California's potential statehood. Oh well.