Springfield, Illinois. Brandon, a surveyor, dreams of building a railway to the west, but Marsh, a contractor, is sceptical. Abraham Lincoln looks on as their children, Davy Brandon and ... See full summary »
Springfield, Illinois. Brandon, a surveyor, dreams of building a railway to the west, but Marsh, a contractor, is sceptical. Abraham Lincoln looks on as their children, Davy Brandon and Miriam Marsh, play together. Brandon sets off with Davy to survey a route. They discover a new pass which will shave 200 miles off the expected distance, but they are set upon by a party of Cheyenne. One of them, a white renegade with only two fingers on his right hand, kills Brandon and scalps him. Davy buries his father... Years pass. It is 1862 and Lincoln signs the bill authorizing construction of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railways. Marsh is principal contractor and Miriam is engaged to Jesson, the chief engineer... Crews of Chinese, Italians, and Irish work to build the railway while resisting Indian attack. When the pay train is delayed by Indian ambush, the Italians go on strike. Miriam persuades them to return to work... Marsh needs to find a shortcut through the Black Hills. To ... Written by
When on location, the crew built a large town set in which many of the buildings had practical rooms. These rooms soon became living quarters, holding areas and storage space. The editing lab was set up in the post office set. See more »
The Union Pacific steam engine at the Golden Spike ceremony was the UP119, not the UP116. See more »
Previous to directing The Iron Horse, John Ford had been known as the director of a few dozen B westerns, most of them probably lost by now and most of them starring Harry Carey. In getting the assignment for The Iron Horse, Ford got his first really big budget to work with from Fox Films. The end result was a film which along with Paramount's The Covered Wagon became the models for the big epic westerns. And it launched a whole new career for John Ford that netted four Oscars as a Best Director, though not one of them was for a western.
The story of The Iron Horse begins here in Springfield, Illinois where the children of Will Walling a contractor and surveyor James Gordon are playing while their fathers are meeting with none other than Abraham Lincoln at that time just a state legislator. Both would like to see a transcontinental railroad and Gordon is going to make good on it by going west and surveying the best route through the Rocky Mountains. But out west the surveyor is killed by hostile Indians led by a white man with only two fingers on his right hand. But the boy hides and is missed and grows up to be frontiersman George O'Brien.
Twenty years later in the midst of the great Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signs the legislation authorizing the building of such a railroad though the real work doesn't start until the war is over. By that time Will Walling is working on building the Union Pacific and his daughter has grown up to be Madge Bellamy. She's engaged to Cyril Chadwick another surveyor, but Chadwick has some mixed loyalties.
Those of you who saw the epic DeMille production Union Pacific will recognize from this point some of the same plot situations. No doubt Cecil B. DeMille borrowed quite a bit from The Iron Horse, but I will say DeMille wrecked his train during the Indian attack and it was a beauty. But Ford with all the extras involved could say that his was to use the cliché, a cast of thousands.
The real evil villain here just as Brian Donlevy was in Union Pacific is Fred Kohler. He's behind a lot of the scheming as he's a large landowner where the Cheyenne Indians seem to function as a personal army. Now that was a bit much to swallow. As was the fact that when the grown up George O'Brien first makes his appearance he is identified as a Pony Express rider. Everyone knows that the Pony Express was a year long phenomenon that the Civil War closed down and the telegraph and railroad put out of business permanently. But Ford was also interested in the poetry of the west rather than the facts.
Still the action of The Iron Horse holds up remarkably well today and the careers of both John Ford and George O'Brien were made with this film.
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