The Secret of Convict Lake

The Secret of Convict Lake is a 1951 American black-and-white western film starring Glenn Ford and Gene Tierney.[2] It was directed by Michael Gordon and produced by Frank P. Rosenberg, with music by Sol Kaplan. The film was a critical and commercial success. Ethel Barrymore and Ann Dvorak (in her final film role) co-starred. The story is fiction, based on legends of Convict Lake, located in the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges of northern California.[3][4]

The Secret of Convict Lake
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Gordon
Produced byFrank P. Rosenberg
Written byBen Hecht (uncredited)
Anna Hunger (story)
Jack Pollexfen (story)
Victor Trivas (adaptation)
Screenplay byOscar Saul from the short story by Anna Hunger
StarringGlenn Ford
Gene Tierney
Ethel Barrymore
Ann Dvorak
Music bySol Kaplan
CinematographyLeo Tover
Edited byJames B. Clark
Distributed byTwentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Release date
  • July 29, 1951 (1951-07-29) (Los Angeles)
  • August 3, 1951 (1951-08-03) (New York City)
Running time
83 minutes
Box office$1,350,000 (US rentals)[1]


In 1871, six convicts escape from a Carson City prison. A posse loses them in a mountain blizzard, and after the posse turn back, the convicts continue on foot and one of the fugitives freezes to death. The five remaining are Canfield, Greer, Cockerell, Anderson and Maxwell. They make it to a lake called Monte Diablo, where eight women live in a settlement while their men are away prospecting for silver. Granny is the elder, watching over Marcia, Rachel, Barbara, Susan, Harriet, Mary, and Millie.[5]

Frightened by these men who arrive at night, the women however permit them to use an empty cabin. Granny hides guns where the unarmed men can't find them and they soon realize that the men are escaped convicts. In exposition, it becomes clear that Canfield (Glenn Ford) has returned to this small town for a reason and the other convicts suspect that he has money hidden somewhere in the small settlement. Canfield, we learn, had been convicted of killing a mine owner, Morgan, and $40,000 had gone missing, unfound after the murder.

Canfield learns that the local woman Marcia, to whom he is attracted, is engaged to be married to a man named Rudy Schaeffer. It was Rudy Schaeffer whose testimony led to Canfield being sent to the penitentiary. Canfield claims it was Rudy behind the robbery, that Rudy took the $40,000 and unfairly swore testimony against Canfield, who then reveals that he has returned to the town to seek revenge and kill Schaeffer. Marcia finds it hard to accept his version of events, a damning version against her fiancé, while at the same time she is attracted to Canfield.

A barn catches fire due to Rachel's carelessness and the convicts run inside to rescue the animals. The women are grateful and treat them more kindly. Canfield seems the most decent. The other four plot to get firearms and escape as soon as there is a thaw in the frigid cold, as they continue to suspect that Canfield has returned here for the missing money they, too, want to find. In private conversation it is revealed they have no compunction in killing Canfield once they have all that they want.

Meanwhile, the men of the town are returning from their silver prospecting and stop in a saloon along the way. Rudy Schaeffer spots a wanted poster identifying Canfield and the other fugitives as escapees. He and his men head back on horseback to the lake and their families. Meanwhile, Greer has worked his charms on Rachel (who is Rudy's sister) and she reveals to Greer where the hidden guns are. He, Cockerell and Anderson burst in on Granny, remove her from her bed and find them under her mattress. Marcia meanwhile, terrified that her fiancé is targeted for a revenge killing, rides out of the small settlement to raise the alarm, but is followed by Canfield who eventually catches her settling down to camp for the night in a cave. He convinces her that he is indeed an innocent, good man. She believes him and tries to talk him out of his revenge plot. He says that the mine owner Morgan had swindled him out of the money, that he had come to talk to Morgan about it. Morgan had pulled a gun on him, they had scuffled and the gun had gone off accidentally, killing Morgan. Rudy had witnessed this, but in order to get the money had falsely testified that Canfield had killed Morgan in cold blood.

Canfield and Marcia kiss and both then plan to return to the settlement in the morning. Clyde, the younger convict, who is revealed to have been in jail for being a psycho woman killer is attracted to the youngest, Barbara, and takes her on a long walk and tries to kiss her. Barbara resists, but when she does, he starts to get agitated and attacks her. Canfield, returning to the settlement on horseback with Marcia hears Barbara's cries and goes to help her. In arriving to assist, Canfield sees Clyde pull a knife, about to stab Barbara when Canfield lurches in and fights him, getting stabbed in the shoulder. Barbara escapes screaming and runs through the clearing towards the group of other women who are out looking for her, some carrying pitchforks. Canfield, stabbed, cannot chase Clyde, who runs after Barbara through the trees like the lunatic he is, waving his knife. Unfortunately he runs into the women with their pitchforks and they kill him.

Back at the settlement, Marcia confronts Rachel and tells her that her fiancé Rudy (Rachel's brother) may very well have been guilty of the robbery and not Canfield. Rachel has looked for the missing $40,000 and found it in a trunk belonging to Rudy. She gives it to Marcia who then takes it and gives it to Greer, exhorting him to leave them all alone and go.

Rudy Schaeffer and his men arrive back in the small town and confront the convicts who are attempting to escape. In a gunfight, Cockerell and Anderson are shot. Greer flees and runs up a mountain, the $40,000 flying from his pants in the wind. He stops to try and pick it up and is shot, falling from a ledge on a high cliff to his death. Canfield finally comes up behind Rudy Schaeffer and holds a gun on him, telling him to confess to all the others about the true story of the robbery and the mine owner's death. Marcia runs up behind screaming, scared about what is about to occur. As Canfield turns to see her, Rudy spins around and pulls a gun. However, Canfield turns back and kills Schaeffer in self-defense.

Soon after, the townsfolk are standing around 5 graves. (The 4 dead convicts and Rudy.) They all see a posse arriving on horseback in the distance. Marcia pleads with them all to tell the Sheriff when he arrives that Canfield is innocent and killed Rudy in self-defence. Rachel wants to turn Canfield in for killing her brother, whether he meant to or not, since he had returned to the town initially with the sole purpose of killing Rudy. The others all think that Canfield should go to trial and let a jury decide. Marcia pleads again that the only fair trial he will receive is here and now.

When the sheriff arrives, he walks in on the end of the burial ceremony and sees the 5 graves. He says to Granny that he is looking for 5 convicts, (having found the 6th frozen on the mountain). She points to the five graves and says that the convicts are buried, not revealing that Rudy is in one of the graves rather than Canfield. The Sheriff, believing Granny, then asks if anyone here wants to add anything or make a statement. One by one they all decline. The last person asked is Rachel. She hesitates, then quietly says she has nothing to add. Marcia and Canfield end up together as the posse leaves and the townsfolk file away.



  1. 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1951', Variety, January 2, 1952
  2. Maddrey, Joseph (2016). The Quick, the Dead and the Revived: The Many Lives of the Western Film. McFarland. p. 175. ISBN 9781476625492. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  3. Ford, Peter (2011). Glenn Ford: A Life. Univ of Wisconsin Press. p. 113. ISBN 9780299281533. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  4. Thomson, David (2014). The New Biographical Dictionary of Film: Sixth Edition. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 66. ISBN 9781101874707. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  5. Rice, Christina (2013). Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel. University Press of Kentucky. p. 259. ISBN 9780813144405. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
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