During the opening credits a bat is seen flying across the screen. We find ourselves in a dark eerie deserted town filled with slamming doors and strange howls in the night. Joe Ryan and his gang are playing poker in the dark, waiting for the return of Ed, one of their own from the Sally Ann mine. He left hours ago and there has been no sign of him since. Suddenly Ed’s horse returns with a note attached warning the same fate is waiting for anyone else who dares to enter the Sally Ann mine. The men are spooked to say the least.
What starts out as a seemingly old dark house spook fest is in fact a John Wayne western, and after this slick and unique opening, gradually slides back into the standard western of its day. “Haunted Gold” is a remake of a 1928 silent called “The Phantom City” that starred Ken Maynard. This low budget remake is even filled with stock footage from earlier Maynard silent westerns.
Wayne is John Mason, a high voiced rancher who comes to the ghost town to take a look at the abandon mine, half of which was left to him by his father. Along with Mason is his sidekick Clarence (Blue Washington Brown). Mason discovers Ryan is now the other half owner of the mine having cheated the rightful owner, Bill Carter, out of his share. Also on hand is pretty young Janet Carter (Sheila Terry), the daughter of the cheated owner. She like Mason received a mysterious note requesting their presence by someone only known as the phantom, a mysterious figure whose eyes we see peering through peepholes throughout the film.
After this fairly interesting beginning the film turns into a standard western. Ryan and his boys want the gold that is in the mine somewhere. Janet will find herself in danger, tied up deep inside the mineshaft. Good guy John Wayne, err I mean John Mason comes to her rescue only to be caught and tied up by Ryan and his boys. Duke, that’s Mason’s horse, returns rider less to the ranch and rounds up the ranch hands to come and help Mason but of course by the time they arrive, Duke, that is John Wayne not the horse, has everything under control with the help of his stumbling partner Clarence. And of course he wins the girl heart in the end.
The most interesting aspect of this film is that the cinematographer is the great Nick Musuraca and his talent is used to great display in some of the eerie scenes that take place in the dark spooky ghost town during the early scenes in the film. Unfortunately the rest of the film is handicapped by mediocre acting, (Wayne has yet to develop his screen persona), a lame story and a disturbing light hearted racist attitude toward character actor Blue Washington Brown who plays Clarence. Brown who seems like a talented actor is handicapped by the cultural stupidity of the times forced to play foolish characters with little intelligence, act scared and quote stereotypical dialogue for laughs. One has to remember that this was just a reflection of the times in which the film was made and while not acceptable by today’s standards, understandable for the period in which it was made.
Directed by Mack V. Wright who made a few films together with Wayne and Duke, the horse during these early years including “Somewhere in Sonora” and “The Man From Monterey.” Wright’s career was mainly in low budget filmmaking. He also worked with other western stars like Gene Autry (The Singing Cowboy, Comin’ Round The Mountain) and Robert Livingston (Riders of the Whistling Skull, The Vigilantes Are Coming).