The Secret of Convict Lake is a depressing affair. I knew it was Glenn Ford and Gene Tierney, but Ethel Barrymore’s in it too. So you have these three fantastic actors—Ford and Tierney even muster enough chemistry to accomplish their ludicrous romance—and an otherwise lousy Western.
The film opens and closes with some useless narration, which probably should have given away the narrative problems, but it also has these great snow sequences. Unfortunately, those sequences are about as open as the film gets. The titular lake is never seen on screen and most of the film plays out in stagy scenes. Oscar Saul’s script is weak, but not so weak a good director couldn’t have done something with it. Gordon’s composition is, generously, inept. Some of the problems might have to do with the sound stages… but, really, he’s not much of a director. When the film opens up slightly at the end and goes on location, the composition gets even worse. Leo Tover’s photography might play some fault too. Sol Kaplan’s score certainly does; it’s awful.
Then there’s the supporting cast. Zachary Scott is half-okay, mostly terrible as the lead villain. Cyril Cusack, Richard Hylton and Jack Lambert are all bad as his sidekicks. Hylton, in particular, is laughably bad (as a psychopath).
Most of the female actors are fine; except Ann Dvorak and her histrionics.
It’s a shame Fox didn’t team Ford, Tierney and Barrymore in a good picture.
Convict Lake’s a long eighty minutes.
Directed by Michael Gordon; screenplay by Oscar Saul, based on an adaptation by Victor Trivas and a story by Anna Hunger and Jack Pollexfen; director of photography, Leo Tover; edited by James B. Clark; music by Sol Kaplan; produced by Frank P. Rosenberg; released by 20th Century Fox.
Starring Glenn Ford (Jim Canfield), Gene Tierney (Marcia Stoddard), Ethel Barrymore (Granny), Zachary Scott (Johnny Greer), Ann Dvorak (Rachel Schaeffer), Barbara Bates (Barbara Purcell), Cyril Cusack (Edward ‘Limey’ Cockerell), Richard Hylton (Clyde Maxwell), Helen Westcott (Susan Haggerty), Jeanette Nolan (Harriet Purcell), Ruth Donnelly (Mary Fancher) and Harry Carter (Rudy Schaeffer).