The Walking Hills

The Walking Hills is a 1949 American Western film directed by John Sturges and starring Randolph Scott and Ella Raines. The film's plot has film noir elements in its story of a search for an old treasure by nine men including a detective tracking a fugitive, several others who have things to hide, and a love triangle involving the two leads and the fugitive.

The Walking Hills
Directed byJohn Sturges
Produced byHarry Joe Brown
Written byVirginia Roddick
(additional dialogue)
Screenplay byAlan Le May
Story byAlan Le May
StarringRandolph Scott
Ella Raines
Music byArthur Morton
CinematographyCharles Lawton Jr.
Edited byWilliam Lyon
Columbia Pictures
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • March 5, 1949 (1949-03-05)
Running time
78 minutes
CountryUnited States

Sturges filmed the movie in the Alabama Hills of California and Death Valley National Monument, locations he returned to a few years later in filming his classic Bad Day at Black Rock.


One day in contemporary Mexicali, a poker game in the back room of a cantina includes horse breeder Jim Carey, cowboys Shep and Johnny, a prospector called Old Willy, a stranger in town named Frazee and a drifter, Chalk. Guitar player Josh and bartender Bibbs are kibbitzing. Conversation turns to a legendary wagon train carrying gold bars worth $5 million lost 100 years ago in the Walking Hills, a huge area of shifting dunes across the border in the United States. Johnny, not paying attention, casually mentions how his horse recently tripped over an old wagon wheel in the hills. To keep the discovery a secret, they agree that all of them including Jim's man Cleve must join the search for the wagon train.

The nine reach the apparent site but all the dunes have shifted since Johnny was there. Bibbs discovers an ox skull and Old Willy an oxen yoke and they begin digging. The group is joined by Chris Jackson, a woman who followed them from Calexico, where she works in a diner. Shep is really former rodeo rider Dave Wilson with whom Chris, herself a rodeo performer, fell in love at a rodeo in Denver, breaking off her engagement to Jim. Dave abruptly disappeared and Chris saw him again in Calexico after he showed up there as Shep, heading for the border.

It turns out that Dave Wilson had fled because he accidentally killed a gambler who accused him of cheating at cards. The man's father, King, hired a detective who turns out to be Frazee, and who has been sending signals to King and a posse with a heliograph. Johnny, Chalk and Cleve are also on the run and each believes Frazee is after him. Frazee shoots Johnny during a fight. Jim, told by Johnny that he would rather die than go to prison, has Cleve hide the horses to keep Johnny from being found out if someone goes for help.

A wagon is uncovered and tempers flare when no gold is found. Johnny dies right after Frazee admits he watched Chris as "hangman's bait," waiting for Dave to show up. A terrible sand storm develops, and Chalk tries to stampede the horses, killing Frazee with his own gun. Jim kills Chalk as he tries to escape. The storm uncovers the entire wagon train. Old Willy finds it, but it's empty. Dave decides to turn himself in to the law and Chris, still in love with Dave, rides after him. Jim has a hunch, meanwhile, that the wagons weren't entirely empty when Old Willy found it. He is right.


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