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||IMDB Rating: 6.6/10 from APPROVED votes
||Release: 03 May 1940 /
||Director: Richard Thorpe,
||Synopsis: It is 1892 in Death Valley and the yields from the Borax ore are getting so small that refining it is a losing proposition. The only thing that will save the company is a new deposit of ...
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If you enjoy the late Beery westerns made for MGM (Bad Bascome, Jack,
etc) then this will be a particular pleasure. Mercifully free of the
cute moppets that blight some of Beery's other starring vehicles, 20
Mule Team provides excellent entertainment value, as well as surprising
As Beery grew older and took on more westerns, so he came to look much
more of a natural western star. His face become more lined and
resigned, until by the time of the 40's his exterior (and acting
abilities) gave his western roles a weary gravitas - recalling that
achieved by a similarly ageing Randolph Scott in his acclaimed cycle of
film with director Budd Boetticher a decade or so later (The Tall T,
Ride Lonesome etc.)
20 Mule Team must be one of those few westerns which deals with borax
transportation and exploitation as a central plot point. But don't let
this put you off as, despite a somewhat melodramatic plot (evil
stranger preys on local virgin, claim jumpers & etc) the weaknesses are
more than offset by the strength of the location cinematography for the
exterior scenes, and Beery's presence and range. Here he has the
opportunity to display his talent to the utmost, playing by turn a hard
nosed villain, sentimental buddy, comic louse and clumsy lover all the
while as the camera revels gratefully in his lumbering presence.
Overall the characters in the film are dominated by the stark landscape
of desert and rocks which lays outside the Borax mining town ... a
contrast of light and shade, black and white, that reflects back in
turn the stark moral choices open to the inhabitants.
In the most impressive scene in the film, Beery resigns himself to
death in the desert after a shoot out with the villain. His friend
(played throughout with characteristic irony by familiar Beery side
kick Leo Carrillo) has been mortally wounded, and dies while he
watches. Wounded himself, he settles down on his own, into the scorched
sand and curses the blasted landscape believing (as we do then) all
hope lost. The camera watches Beery, blankly verbally assailing the
wilderness condemning him for a long minute, slowly tracking back in a
single take. This movement is both beautiful and moving, emphasising
the starkness of his fate. Whether intended or not, this powerful scene
also recalls the end of Stroheim's Greed, and is an extraordinary
moment in a studio product of this sort.
Beery's Westerns are overdue for reassessment.
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