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
During the filming of a climactic gun battle, which took several days to film, the cast and crew awoke to find that an unexpected snowfall had blanketed the set. The crew, and most of the cast, set to work clearing the large set of the fresh snow, and amazingly were able to do so in about an hour. See more »
Pony Express riders are shown under attack from Indians in 1867. The Pony Express was in operation from 1860 to 1861 when it was rendered obsolete by the telegraph. See more »
[Referring to Brandon]
With his own hands he has driven the last spike - the buckle in the girdle of a continent.
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A young boy grows to fulfill his murdered father's vision of seeing THE IRON HORSE, the mighty transcontinental railway, stitch the country together, binding East to West.
Bursting with excitement & patriotic fervor, THE IRON HORSE is the film which put young director John Ford on the cinematic map. He brought together all he had learned from years of making shorter, smaller films and he produced a product which heralded his enormous contributions to sound films in the years to come. This is a `director's picture' in that the stars, as good as they are, are almost negligible; what was important here was Ford's vision & his ability to place it before the audience. Indeed, he does not even bring his leading man (George O'Brien) on screen until 45 minutes into the story - a shortcut to disaster almost anywhere else.
(In all fairness it should be noted that O'Brien, handsome & strong-limbed, does very well as the gentle hero. He would find similar roles in other epic films of the decade. J. Farrell MacDonald, as Irish Corporal Casey, is the prototype for many comically eccentric fellows who would appear in other Ford westerns.)
The film often takes on the aspects of an ancient newsreel. Cattle drives, Indian attacks & endless track laying all look utterly real. Particularly fascinating is the depiction of the dismantlement of the end-of-the-track town, so that not even a dog is left, as it is moved many miles further on to the west. This type of arcane information is what makes watching very old films so enjoyable.
THE IRON HORSE represented the largest migration out of Hollywood for location shooting up to that time. Nothing like this had been attempted before, so Ford & his lieutenants were forced to make up the rules as they went along.
Hiring a circus train, the small army of extras arrived at the subzero Nevada location in January of 1924. The conditions which greeted them were authentically primitive. It was so cold, the extras quickly began sleeping in their costumes. Finding the train to be flea ridden, they moved into the sets and began living exactly as the characters they were portraying. The female extras especially suffered from the rugged conditions. A frontier mindset seemed to take over many of the cast & crew; the circus tent, which doubled as both the movie saloon and the crew's commissary, eventually had to have the catsup bottles removed from the tables to discourage the many fights which kept breaking out.
Authenticity found its way into the movie in other, more positive, ways. Several of the elderly Chinese extras, representing laborers on the Central Pacific, had actually worked on the real McCoy sixty years previous. They came out of retirement to appear in the film & enjoyed themselves immensely. Ford also managed to locate the two original locomotives which met at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869 and reunited them for the film's climax.
Composer John Lanchbery has contributed a splendid soundtrack to the restored video version, incorporating several contemporaneous tunes of the period. It would be intriguing to double bill THE IRON HORSE with Cecil B. DeMille's UNION PACIFIC (1939), which tells the same historical story, but with a completely different tack & set of fictional characters.
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