Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1949. Producers-Actors Corporation. Story and Screenplay by Alan Le May, additional dialogue by Virginia Roddick. Cinematography by Charles Lawton Jr.. Produced by Harry Joe Brown. Music by Arthur Morton. Production Design by Robert Peterson. Costume Design by Jean Louis. Film Editing by William A. Lyon.
John Sturges helms this obvious rip-off of Treasure of the Sierra Madre that, thanks to inspired direction and haunting photography, manages to be a worthy adventure of its own. Federal agents pursuing a murder suspect across the Mexicali border follow him into a poker game; he is trying to blend in but they all get caught up in an irresistible scheme after a young man at the table (Jerome Courtland) says that he saw some old-timey wagon wheels sticking out of the sand on a routine ride in the desert straddling the border. Other men at the table decide the wheels must belong to the century-old legend of a wagon train that was carrying gold until it was swallowed by the merciless desert sands. Putting aside differences, cop John Ireland, murderer William Bishop and five other men follow Randolph Scott‘s lead into the barren dunes in search of their fortune. After a few days, Ella Raines shows up to provide a force for reason, hoping to get the men to turn back towards civilization and then, when they don’t listen, hoping to at least convince them to prioritize the preservation of life when things start to go wrong. The tension builds beautifully as characters get more paranoid and greedy, then the experience is capped off by a fantastic sand storm that lifts the film well above its status as B-level exploitation fare.