An episodic epic tracing the fictionalized history of the famed express company through the actions of one of that company's loyal activists, played by McCrea. Each segment of the film has a prolog giving the time and place as the characters age appropriately while spreading messages across the West. The opening sequence sets the stage for the rest of the coach-and-six saga, as barrels of fresh oysters are off-loaded from a railway car in Batavia, New York--where the rails end--and transferred to a waiting stagecoach. In a furious race against the possible culturing of salmonella bacteria in the mussels, the coach horses gallop off to Buffalo where waiting gourmands will safely gorge themselves on the slimy delicacies. The master of this orchestrated motion is O'Neill, the founder of the famed company. Segment two traces the westward transit of emigrating settlers, served only--at the time--by ships sailing the many tedious miles around the Horn. Forward thinking entrepreneur O'Neill envisages a time-saving landward passage and dispatches his sturdy second, McCrea, to California, where he happens upon segment three, the Gold Rush. Recruiting a buckskinned bumpkin, Burns, and his Indian companion, Siegel, McCrea hastens to set up the western arm of segment four, the Overland Mail, which is threatened by both meretricious bankers and the customary robber bands and Indian war parties. The famed Pony Express races by at something more than its legendary speed in the brief fifth episode. The sixth sees the outbreak of the Civil War, a conflict which separates the chief protagonists, McCrea and wife Dee, whose sympathies lie with different camps. Indeed, when a valuable gold bullion shipment intended to pay for provisioning the Union forces is hijacked by Confederates, McCrea comes to believe that Dee has leaked the location of the cache to the Confederacy. Husband and wife part coldly as a result. The singing wires of the emergent telegraph, stringing westward, grace segment seven, while in the final episode the iron horse connects the country's coasts as the 17th birthday of their son reunites McCrea and Dee. A small thing in great compass, the film covers far too much history to deal with any of it fairly. Burns functions as a translator of sorts, his laconic comments punctuated by an occasional "Ugh!" in rejoinder by his taciturn Indian friend. Dee is good in her part as McCrea's wife (a part she played in life; the two celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1983). Most of the other roles are fragmentary, their characters lacking the screen time needed for real development. The tribulations of the two leading players are the focus; crowd scenes are at a minimum. In this, the picture more resembles the series of "historical" dramas produced by Darryl F. Zanuck for 20th Century Fox than anything Paramount had done to that date (see THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD, 1934, LLOYD'S OF LONDON, 1936). The tale is really an amalgam of anecdotes about many different express companies, which competed fiercely in their mutual race to remain in front of the railroad and telegraph which dogged their trails so relentlessly. The true story of these companies which consolidated, broke up, and re-emerged at a breakneck pace might have been more interesting than this film, flawed by its all-inclusive excess. Wells, Fargo and Company, founded in 1851 with the chartered intent "to forward Gold Dust, Bullion, Specie, Packages, Parcels & Freight of all kinds, to and from New York and San Francisco and all the principal towns of California and Oregon," proved to be too big a subject in its total context. The film earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound.