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A wagontrain is supposed to bring settlers to Oregon, and Breck Coleman
(John Wayne), trapper, expert knifethrower and a friend of the Indians, is
asked to be the its scout, but he turns the offer down because he wants to
track down the killers of his best friends. Only when he finds evidence
that the wagontrains guide Flack (Tyrone Power sr) is leading the
wagontrain does he reconsider.
Soon enough it becomes evident that Flack and his friends, the crooked
trapper Lopez (Charles Stevens) and the gambler Thorpe (Ian Keith) are up
to no good, even if they competently lead the wagontrain - but they also
make attempts on Breck's life (unsuccessfully of course), and Thorpe
desperately tries to get friendly with Breck's sweetheart Ruth (Marguerite
Churchill) - and with some success too, because she doesn't completely
During all of these goings on the treck travels through rivers and
deserts, over cliffs (in one of the film's most memorable scenes), is
attacked by Indians, gets stuck in mud and finally almost comes to a
standstill in snowy mountains.
Eventually, Thorpe makes another attempt on Breck's life and is almost
successfull, too, but is int he last moment shot by Breck's faithful
sidekick Zeke (Tully Marshall). Flack and Lopez try to put the blame for
the shooting on Breck, but fail, and when they fail they realize their
days are numbered with the treck, and they make a hasty escape through the
Breck, who always brings everything to an end, brings the treck to its
destination, but as soon as it's there, he tracks the two badmen down
through the snow, finds Lopez already frozen to death and finally hurls
his lethal knife towards Flack ...
Ultimately, Breck rejoins the settlers and is welcomed by Ruth with
After nothing more than a few bitparts (mainly in John Ford-films,
interestingly), this was John Wayne's debut as a leading man ... but
unfortunately the film bombed. The reason was mainly that it was the first
film shot in 70 milimeters and a new process called Grandeur, when
hardly any exhibitors had the equipment to show films in Grandeur
and hardly the means to update their equipment which they had just updated
to sound very recently (remember, this film is from 1930, the first soudn
film was made in 1927). So this film could have been John Wayne's
breakthrough performance, instead it send him working in serials
B-pictures for almost 10 years until his ultimate breaktrhrough with Stagecoach
in 1939. Grandeur meanwhile was a system that was shelved again
after this film.
Taken by its own merits though, the film is nothing short of
breathtaking. Of course, the story - a blend of romance and
vendetta-Western - is clichéd and was hardly inventive even then, but the
backdrop of the treck to Oregon is nothing short of breathtaking, as
director Walsh - to properly sell the new format - was allowed to work
with hundreds of extras and dozens of wagons, and he uses some wide range
shots that are nothing short of amazing toget them all into one picture,
while at the same time including them in the action - like when they go
through rivers or down the cliffs or build a corral when the Indians
attack ... it shows how much money was involved on one hand, but also a
great director at work on the other.
If you are in the least bit interested in (epic) Westerns, you simply have
to see this film.