SUBJECTS — U.S./Frontier and the West & California;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Male Role Model; Justice; Bad Associations.


AGE: Age: 12+; No MPAA Rating;

Drama; 1935; 90 minutes; B & W. Available from

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The time is the California Gold Rush. A young woman anxious to make a fortune arrives in San Francisco to meet her intended husband, the owner of a casino. Finding that her fiancé has died, she teams up with the new owner of the casino who cheats unsuspecting miners out of their hard earned gold. She is well on her way to easy wealth when she falls in love with one of her victims.


Selected Awards: 1935 Academy Awards Nomination: Best Cinematography.

Featured Actors: Edward G. Robinson, Walter Brennan, Miriam Hopkins, Joel McCrea.

Director: Howard Hawks.


This film gives us a glimpse of San Francisco in the Gold Rush days, a man who refuses to be dragged into the corruption of the place and time, and the role of newspapers and vigilantes in the old West. It deals with the moral question of whether this young woman can share in the spoils of a corrupt business without dirtying her own hands.


MODERATE. Alcohol abuse and smoking are shown. Gambling is shown. There are several murders by gun and a hanging, none graphically shown.


Ask and lead your child through the answer to the Quick Discussion Question and the Bad Association Discussion Question.


In 1848 gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill near San Francisco. Gold fever gripped the nation and thousands of men left the East for the gold fields. The mining camps and towns that grew up in or near the gold fields were almost exclusively populated by men. The only women were prostitutes, “Mexicans,” or “Indians,” who were considered to be about the same. There were very few “white” women. Along with the prospectors came those who were ready to take the prospectors’ gold in gambling halls or by selling equipment and supplies to them at inflated prices.

Tens of thousands of men migrated to California during the Gold Rush. The California population rose from 90,000 in 1849 to 220,000 by 1852, the year in which gold production was the greatest. The Gold Rush lasted just six years, until 1854, when the mining became dominated by large companies.

In the West, before law and order took hold or when corruption got out of hand, citizens formed vigilante committees which rendered rough justice with guns and rope. Lynching (named after Charles Lynch, a justice of the peace during the revolution who dealt out extralegal sentences to Tories) was sometimes used by vigilante groups to discipline wrongdoers who bought off or evaded the law. See Learning Guide to To Kill a Mockingbird.

While most of the men who came West were poorly educated, a few had classical educations. Ulysses is the Latin name for Odysseus, who, in Greek mythology, had ten years of adventures while trying to get home from the Trojan War. Harpies in Greek Mythology are bird-like monsters with heads of old ugly women who were agents of divine punishment.

Medusa in Greek Mythology was a monster with snakes in her hair. One look at her turned you to stone. Balboa was the Spanish adventurer who first saw the Pacific Ocean.

Before a city could afford paving stones for the streets, during the wet season, the streets would become a morass of mud, often many feet deep. This was a frequent problem in the West. The Gold Rush was a great boon to San Francisco, and it was California’s largest city until the 1920’s when Los Angeles surpassed it.



Did Chamalis receive justice or were his rights violated? Should the vigilantes who hanged him have been prosecuted for murder?

Suggested Response:

The easy answer is that Chamalis did not receive justice, and the vigilantes committed a crime. However, there is more to it than that. Since Chamalis had so thoroughly corrupted the city that he would never be brought to justice by the current officeholders, some would argue that the only way to bring him to justice was through vigilante justice. But there was a better way. Citizens opposing Chamalis should have banded together, gotten politically active and kicked out the corrupt officeholders. Only after many attempts at that had failed would vigilantism be justified.

1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

2. Why did Swan stay with the casino owner for a long time even though she disagreed with his business methods? Was this the right thing to do?

Suggested Response:

She stayed because she wanted the easy money that was coming in from ownership of the saloon. This was not the right thing to do because if you take wrongfully obtained money, you are guilty of the wrong.

3. Why was it so important that the newspaper begin printing the truth?

Suggested Response:

Without an active and independent press, the people will never know what goes on in government or even the larger world. Without an independent press, Chamalis would retain his grip on power.



1. Was Carmichael a male role model? Explain your position.


See Quick Discussion Question.


2. Could Swan still be a good person and maintain her business partnership with a crook like Chamalis?

Suggested Response:

The answer is no. She received the gains from Chamalis’ evil behavior. She was just like him, maybe with more style, possibly a little gentler, but if you take wrongfully obtained money, you are guilty of the wrong. Unless she married him or she became involved directly in criminal actions, he would try to take her share. He might try to take her share anyway. Power abhors a vacuum.


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.

1. Analyze the actions of any major character in the film applying two tests which any ethical action must pass: (1) The Golden Rule (Would the person taking the action want to be treated the same way? or to put it another way “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”) and (2) universality (Would there be a positive effect on society if everyone acted the same way in a similar situation?).

2. The plots of most films turn on one or more ethical choices which must be made by the characters in the movie. Which of The Six Pillars of Character, if any, are involved in the plot of this film? Tell us whether the ethical decisions made by the characters complied with the standards set out in the Six Pillars. Justify your opinion.


(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)


(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)


(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)


(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don’t take advantage of others; Don’t blame others carelessly)


(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)


(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)



Ulysses, Harpy, Balboa, Medusa, Odyssey.

Last updated December 9, 2009.

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