The Painted Hills

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
The Painted Hills Movie Poster Image
Gold, greed, Old West violence, and a smart dog.
  • G
  • 1951
  • 68 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Meant to entertain rather than educate.

Positive Messages

Loyalty is important. Sometimes violence is justified in cases of self-protection and seeking justice.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jonathan is a caring, honest man who knows the mountains and how to find gold. He fairly splits the gold claim he found with Taylor and Tommy's family. Taylor is dishonest, greedy, and murderous. The best, smartest person in the movie is a dog, Shep. She sees through dishonesty in humans and uses her wiles to seek justice.

Violence & Scariness

A paranoid and sneaky man decides to get rid of his partner in a gold claim and keep most of the gold for himself. He also tries to harm a young boy and a dog, both of whom are on to him. People fall off mountain cliffs and die. A man with a gun runs after a boy and a dog. The dog attacks the man twice, teeth bared, growling. A dog is hit by a bullet. Blood is seen in the snow. Taylor poisons the dog, but she is saved by a local medicine man.

Sexy Stuff
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Painted Hills, a 1951 movie in the Lassie series, is a shorter, kid-friendlier remake of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a story about the violence and corrupting power associated with "gold fever" and greed among prospectors of the 1800s. In addition to a wise and grizzled gold expert in the lead and an increasingly paranoid, greedy, and potentially violent younger partner, this movie also features a high-IQ, steadfastly loyal dog and a helpful little boy whose father has died. Be aware that although the film was shot in color, the playback is far grainier than what today's High Def-raised kids are used to. Although violence and malevolence is tame compared to current kids' movies, there is plenty of tension and fear of possible violence, which may upset the youngest viewers.

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What's the story?

In THE PAINTED HILLS, Jonathan (Paul Kelly) has found gold in the mountains and returns to share the good news with his partner, Frank. When he and his loyal collie, Shep, get back to town he discovers that Frank has died of pneumonia, leaving a widow and young son, Tommy (Gary Gray). He promises they'll all be rich from the gold he found. The widow explains that this will now include Lin Taylor (Bruce  Cowling), a partner in the gold because he lent the family money while Frank was sick. Although assured that Taylor is a good man, Jonathan is skeptical and soon his fears are realized. The more gold they find, the greedier and more paranoid Taylor becomes. Jonathan sensibly takes Taylor's gun away for safety, but Taylor finds another way to remove Jonathan from the picture. We see Taylor deliberately shove Jonathan off a cliff and the body bounces grimly off the mountain on the way down. The dog figures out what happened and eventually Tommy understands as well, making them both targets of Taylor's malevolent plans. Hunted down by Taylor, Shep manages to turn the tables and bring justice upon the murderer.

Is it any good?

The best actor in this movie is the dog, and not by a little, but that may be partly explained by the fact that she doesn't have to utter any of the script's badly written dialogue. The dog is a wonder, trained to express sadness, despair, ingenuity, determination, and loyalty. The dog convincingly demonstrates the symptoms of poisoning and gunshot wound, which Meryl Streep could not have done better. The Painted Hills is an adventure story of the Old West, with harsh conditions, guns, greed, and striving, and fans of that sort of drama may enjoy this but people do fall off mountains and a kid runs for his life from a killer, which means more sensitive children may find this story disturbing.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Tommy was able to do many things on his own in The Painted Hills that kids today might not be allowed to do. He rode to town on horseback by himself. He helped dig for and clean gold. Do you think it was common for kids back then to have more responsibility than they do now? Do you think kids who live on farms have more responsibility than kids in cities do? Why?

  • Tommy's father died of an illness. Why do you think Jonathan offered to give Tommy his dog after the boy's father's death? Do you think Jonathan thought Tommy needed someone or something to comfort him? How would a dog do that?

  • Why did so many people in the Old West carry around guns? Do you think times were more dangerous then? Why?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love westerns and dogs

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