John Mason (John Wayne) has saddled up his horse and ridden to an abandoned mining town, after receiving an anonymous letter requesting his presence. John was left a half-share in the mine by his father.
Also returning to the town are Janet Carter (Sheila Terry), whose father would have left her a share in the mine if he hadn’t lost it himself, and Joe Ryan (Harry Woods), a bandit accompanied by a gold-hunting gang.
A battle for the gold supposedly hidden in the mine ensues, but the rightful owners and bandits both find another source of competition: the mine is haunted by a phantom.
Haunted Gold was directed by Mack V. Wright and is a remake of a Ken Maynard film. With Warner Bros., John Wayne starred in remakes of six Ken Maynard films, all of which re-used long shots from the original silents.
Though I’m not a huge fan of John Wayne, I became excited to watch Haunted Gold as the opening credits rolled. They feature animated owls flying toward the viewer. A menacing figure wearing a black robe makes up the background for the credits. A fun and spooky tone is set.
No sooner did my excitement rise than it was shot down again by some good ol’ fashioned Hollywood racism. Blue Washington appears as Clarence, an easily-spooked and superstitous sidekick to John Wayne’s character. Far too much screen time, early on and throughout the rest of the film, is spent squeezing misguided “humor” from this stereotypical character.
There are a few positives to Haunted Gold, including a fast pace. There are a couple of nicely-staged action scenes. The blend of silly ghost story and old-fashioned dispute over riches works well, too. Both sides of the plot are thin, but since the film runs at just under an hour, the viewer’s attention is held.
Also on the bright side, there are a few effective performances from character actors in small roles. Erville Alderson is great as Tom Benedict, who is feuding with the bandits, and Martha Mattox makes a small-but-delightful appearance as the dagger-eyed Mrs. Herman.
Of the central cast, Sheila Terry is the stand-out, though none of the acting is great. Most of the cast is out-performed by Wayne’s horse, Duke. (Duke received top billing alongside Wayne. I thought this was hilarious when I started the film and saw the horse credited so prominently, but by the 45-minute mark, I understood the decision.)
Haunted Gold isn’t a great film, but it does have a few small things going for it. I’d recommend it only to those interested in the small “horror Western” subgenre or those interested in seeing some of John Wayne’s earlier work (though even then, I can’t recommend it very highly due to the reliance on racial stereotypes for “comedy”).