Breck leads a wagon train of pioneers through Indian attack, storms, deserts, swollen rivers, down cliffs and so on while looking for the murder of a trapper and falling in love with Ruth. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Incredibly, six different versions of this film were shot simultaneously. (1) a 70mm version in the Grandeur process for exhibition in the biggest movie palaces; (2) a standard 35mm version for general release; (3) a 35mm alternate French language version La piste des géants (1931)' (4) a 35 mm alternate Spanish language version La gran jornada (1931),(5) a 35 mm alternate German language version Die große Fahrt (1931)and (6) a 35mm alternate Italian language version Il grande sentiero (1931). The four alternate language versions were shot with (mostly) different casts. See more »
Ten weary miles a day. There is no road, but there is a will, and history cuts the way.
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A heroic young trail scout leads a large party of pioneers along THE BIG TRAIL to the West, with Indian attacks, natural disasters & romantic complications all part of the adventure.
As sweeping & magnificent as its story, Raoul Walsh's THE BIG TRAIL is a wonderful film, as entertaining as it was more than seven decades ago. With very good acting and excellent production values, it lives up to its reputation as the talkies' first epic Western.
John Wayne, pulled from obscurity for his first important movie role, looks impossibly young, but he immediately impresses with the natural charm & masculine authority he brings to the hero's role; he quietly dominates the film with the attributes which would someday make him a huge star. Marguerite Churchill is fetching as a lovely Southern belle who slowly warms to the Duke's attentions. Dialect comic El Brendel is great fun as a Swedish immigrant beset with mule & mother-in-law woes; his appearance in a scene signals laughs for the viewer.
Looking & sounding like a human grizzly bear, Tyrone Power Sr., vast & repulsive, makes a wonderful villain. Slick cardsharp Ian Keith is a sophisticated bad guy. (His famous physical similarity to John Gilbert is very apparent here.) Silent movie character actor Tully Marshall is impressive as a wily old mountain man who helps guide the wagon train. Corpulent Russ Powell, as a friendly fur trapper, puts his vocal talent for making nonsense noises to good use. Sharp-eyed movie mavens will spot Ward Bond as one of the Missouri settlers.
What will surprise many modern viewers is that THE BIG TRAIL was filmed in an early wide screen process, called Grandeur. More than living up to its name, the picture looks marvelous, with Walsh showing a mastery of the new technology. He fills the screen, every portion of it, with action. Notice during the crowd scenes, how everyone is busy doing real work, which adds so much to the verisimilitude of these sequences. Walsh deserves great credit for being one of the first directors to use wide screen. In addition, the film is blessedly free of the rear projection photography which blights so many older films. It should also be stressed that it is only natural that the soundtrack sounds a little primitive; talkies were still in their cradle. That Walsh was able to use a microphone at all, with most of the scenes shot out of doors, is more kudos for him.
THE BIG TRAIL was not a box office success. In 1930, William Haines' comedies were the big money makers and the public was looking for fare other than intelligent Westerns. Most of the cast slipped into obscurity, including Wayne. It would not be until 1939, when John Ford rescued him in STAGECOACH, that John Wayne's legend would begin in earnest. And despite its grand & sweeping vistas, it would be another 25 years before wide screen caught on with Hollywood, largely as an answer to the economic threat from television.
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