Creaking, but sentimentally grand. Wayne was working as a property man, a kid just out of college, when director John Ford noticed him. When colleague Raoul Walsh was searching for the male lead for his latest project, Ford recommended Wayne, telling Walsh, who appeared in Griffith's THE
BIRTH OF A NATION in 1915, and who would go on to become one of the best action directors (OBJECTIVE BURMA, THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON) that he "liked the looks of this new kid with a funny walk, like he owned the world."
The film deals with the first covered wagon train to cross the rugged Oregon Trail. There is the traditional Indian attack with pioneers beating off the redskins from their circle of wagons, a spectacular buffalo hunt, and a devastating scene where the entire cast was almost drowned when fording a
river during a fierce rainstorm (Walsh always kept the cameras rolling). There is little plot other than the great trek west through the wilderness of Nebraska and Wyoming where the film was shot, with Wayne vying for Churchill's attentions with Tully Marshall and others.
Walsh's direction is superb as he captures the thrilling outdoor action in this epic which cost Fox $2 million to produce, a fortune in those days. Further, the film was one of the first to be made in Grandeur, a 55mm wide-screen color process so impressive that the premiere audience jumped to its
feet and cheered at the conclusion. Most viewers, however, only saw the film on the standard 35mm black-and-white screen, and this took away from the film's impact.
Wayne seems uneasy, and it can't have helped that Fox producers insisted that Lumsden Hare, the studio voice coach, teach Wayne to sound like an Englishman in buckskin so that each preciously recorded word could be understood. Wayne next drifted into the oblivion of "poverty row" studios that
would have him making sagebrush grinders for nine years until Ford once again came to the rescue by giving him the lead in his classic STAGECOACH.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Creaking, but sentimentally grand. Wayne was working as a property man, a kid just out of college, when director John Ford noticed him. When colleague Raoul Walsh was searching for the male lead for his latest project, Ford recommended Wayne, telling Walsh… (more)