John Wayne’s first starring role. He’s good but raw—on par with the poverty-row oaters he’d headline for the next nine years. Here he plays a trapper leading a wagon train up the Oregon Trail. The script includes the requisite character drama and romantic interest. Disregard them. The production itself proves the real star.
It’s as though Raoul Walsh set out to film a melodramatic epic but ended up creating a pseudo-documentary. The spectacle astounds. Wide shots dominate as thousands of extras march hundreds of livestock and scores of wagons across the Yuma desert and up the Rocky Mountains. They struggle through a muddy basin during a raging lightning storm. They ford a rushing river and wagons and horses wash away. They lower wagons down a sheer cliffside to sometimes disastrous results. It’s all real, captured in glorious 70mm wide-screen. See it to believe it.