The Painted Hills is a movie starring canine star Lassie as Shep.
Shep is the companion of a grizzled old prospector named Jonathan, who returns from the wilderness to find his partner in his current venture died, leaving behind a particularly whiny kid (Tommy), and an Obviously Evil lawyer (Taylor) in charge of the partnership. Jonathan leaves Shep behind to help Tommy before returning to the mountains, but Shep soon goes on a hunger strike to bring Tommy and Taylor to Jonathan's cabin just in time to save the prospector from dying of fever, thanks to the strange bond between dog and man. While the duo is there, they join Jonathan in panning for gold — and the prospector shows them where he'd been stashing the dust he's collected so far. Inevitably, Taylor catches Gold Fever, and murders the grizzled old guy before Shep's eyes.
Shep immediately begins stalking Taylor seeking vengeance. Lots of contrivances happen along the way, but in the end justice is served, as it must be in movies like this. Afterwards, Shep is ready to die alone in the mountains, but the voice of Tommy in the distance convinces the dog to live.
- Adults Are Useless: Pilot Pete doesn't take Tommy's claim that Taylor killed Jonathan at all seriously.
- Artistic License Biology: Based on the amount of frost that gathers on Taylor's beard, hair, shirt, and hands, he should have died of hypothermia a long time before he falls to his death.
- As the Good Book Says...: Pilot Pete quotes relevant Bible verses throughout dinner.
- Chewing the Scenery: Believe it or not, the dog does it after she's been poisoned — lying on her side, kicking up dirt, and whining loudly.
- Crazy Survivalist: Pilot Pete
- Deus ex Machina: Taylor's final attempt to kill Shep off once and for all is foiled by his gun freezing solid.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Taylor had no problems with Jonathan's murder, or trying to kill Shep once he realized the dog knew more than she let on. However he Wouldn't Hurt a Child and spares Tommy when the boy is at his mercy.
- Gaslighting: Taylor tries to convince Tommy that Taylor trying to kill him was all in his head. Tommy almost buys it... until Taylor lies to Pilot Pete about the amount of gold Jonathan had already uncovered.
- Informed Attribute: At the start of the film, Tommy's mother worries that he "hasn't cried once" over the death of his father; but once Tommy appears on screen, the very first thing he does is burst into tears. Completely unprovoked, at that.
- Improbable Infant Survival: Taylor had Tommy at his mercy... and spared him.
- Irony: By the time he takes his Karmic Death-plunge off the cliff, Taylor's hair and beard are so white with snow and ice that he looks almost exactly like Jonathan. It's not entirely clear whether or not this was intentional (the film itself never really draws attention to it) but Joel and The Bots point it out.
- Karmic Death: Taylor dies by falling off a cliff, the same way he killed Jonathan.
- Literal Cliffhanger: When Taylor pushes Jonathan off the cliff, he manages to grab hold of a small bush jutting out of the cliff partway down. Jonathan manages to gasp few curses at Taylor before the bush breaks and he plunges to his death.
- Magical Native American: Chief Bald Eagle is the first to deduce Shep's hunger strike as a Batman Gambit. Later, when the dog is poisoned, Bald Eagle cures her through holistic remedies (including what appears to be a mystical invocation around a campfire, though that may have been tradition as much as anything).
- Make It Look Like an Accident: How Taylor sets about getting rid of Jonathan. Initially, he set up a loose rock on a mountain ledge for Jonathan to trip on and fall off the side, but when Jonathan manages to avoid the rock, Taylor resorts to pushing him off, figuring there wouldn't be any witnesses anyway.
- Nuclear Candle: When Taylor and Tommy enter the darkened cabin where Jonathan is laid up with a fever, Taylor strikes a match that illuminates the entire room. This does not pass unremarked on the MST3K version.
- The Place
- Pragmatic Villainy: The reason for Taylor's sparing of Tommy when the boy is injured and at his mercy is because a single death (Jonathan's) can be construed as an accident, and Shep was supposed to die alone in the woods and never be found; but adding in Tommy's sudden death/disappearance would be much harder to explain.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Well, growling rampage, but Shep manages to lure Taylor up the mountain where his gun freezes after going into the water and then scares him off a cliff.
- Rule of Drama: When Tommy is running from Taylor after discovering Jonathan's body, he hops on his horse which is waiting in the log cabin's corral. A corral that hadn't been there up to that point in the film, and which disappears immediately after providing a temporary obstacle to Tommy's flight.
- Start of Darkness: Taylor almost seems like an okay guy, genuinely looking out for his clients' interests, but he sees that there really is gold in them thar hills, catches Gold Fever and becomes Obviously Evil.
- Revenge of Lassie.
- Spider-Sense: Shep's Batman Gambit to get Tommy and Taylor to bring her to the besickened Jonathan. "Shep knew!" Tommy gasps. How did Shep know?
- Tempting Fate: Jonathan doesn't believe Taylor would kill him because "You don't have the guts!" Of course, later on this comes around to bite Jonathan in the hinder. Or, more accurately, push him off the cliff.
- Taylor even lampshades this trope at the moment Jonathan is offed. It also really bites Jonathan in the butt as he claimed Taylor didn't have the guts to shoot him.
- Tonto Talk: The Native Americans in the film, naturally. Well, the native children, anyway; the native adults speak only their own language.