TERRIFYING – Their Lust for Oil! THRILLING – Their Love for a Woman
John Garfield and Frances Farmer star in 1940’s big blowout Flowing Gold, a saga of the oil industry. It’s not an overly original plot (even by 1940) standards, as it feels a lot like the same year’s Boom Town. Sadly, the latter film features a stronger plot and a stronger cast, with Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable taking on commanding roles.
Flowing Gold is a routine tale of two in love with the same woman. Here it is John Garfield and Pat O’Brien ‘fighting’ over Frances Farmer. It’s a pretty amiable fight as Garfield (as Johnny Blake) and O’Brien (as Hap O’Connor) are good pals. Garfield is playing what by 1940 was his go to role- that of a tough guy with a chip on his shoulder. Here he’s on the run avoiding a murder charge but working with these wildcat oilmen let by Hap. Farmer is Linda Chalmers, the daughter of the whole operation, Wildcat Chalmers (Raymond Walburn).
The plot, outside of the love triangle, is fairly simple. Johnny is on the run from the law and befriends Hap, who is running a drilling operation for Wildcat. Hap agrees to cover for Johnny so that the law doesn’t find him while they work to bring in the big well before Wildcat’s lease for the site expires. Wildcat and his creditors lend a bit of light humor, but overall the film is pretty straightforward.
What overcomes the stale plot and somewhat indifferent casting- as opposed to most discussions I think both Garfield and Farmer legitimize the lack of excitement in the plot with uninspired if effective performance. What Flowing Gold needs is some really dramatic and over the top performances which immerse the viewer into the story. Right away when Linda and Johnny knock heads you know they are the love interest.
Further hampering the proceedings is the clear lack of chemistry that Farmer has with Garfield. At times it’s awkward to watch as you can’t imagine this will end well- though at the same time you know it must. To her credit, she does as well as could be expected given the shallow characterization’s she is given. It doesn’t feel like she really enjoys being with either Hap or Johnny, even though this is a love triangle of sorts. Though she goes on a date with Hap but goes home with Johnny, there’s never any real drama or conflict in the romance department.
What does elevate this one is the fine production values that Warner Brothers brings to the table. Though surely a quickie production to capitalize on the success of MGM’s Boom Town, the film looks great. Especially strong are the drilling scenes with some outstanding visuals during the climactic (and expected) well fire. It’s hard not to get sucked into Flowing Gold in spite of its flaws.
Though we’ve fallen into the trap of comparing Flowing Gold with Boom Town, there are quite a few differences in perspective even though they do cover much of the same ground. The biggest difference is that as you’d expect Flowing Gold is grittier and more working class in its outlook, as you’d expect from Warners. MGM’s offering though showing a ‘bit of grime’ along the way, clearly focuses more on capitalism and is quite a bit more glamorous.
Overall, not an A picture by any means, but still a more than enjoyable high B. Unfortunately not an overly strong entry in the filmographies of either Garfield or Farmer, both of whom led relatively tragic lives.