The Big Trail (1930)

Passed  |   |  Adventure, Western, Romance  |  1 November 1930 (USA)
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Reviews: 53 user | 34 critic

Breck Coleman leads hundreds of settlers in covered wagons from the Mississippi River to their destiny out West.


, (uncredited)


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Complete credited cast:
Tyrone Power Sr. ...
Red Flack (as Tyrone Power)
David Rollins ...
Dave Cameron
Frederick Burton ...
Pa Bascom
Ian Keith ...
Bill Thorpe
Charles Stevens ...
Louise Carver ...
Gus's mother-in-law


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 <>

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The Most Important Picture Ever Produced


Passed | See all certifications »




Release Date:

1 November 1930 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Raoul Walsh's The Big Trail  »

Box Office


$2,000,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (FMC Library Print) | (TCM print)

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


This was Marion Morrison's first major movie role and the producers didn't like his name. They told Raoul Walsh (the director) Morrison needed a new name. Several names were suggested, one of them from Walsh, who had just read about American Revolutionary War general 'Mad' Anthony Wayne. The studio took the hint, added the first name John and the rest was history. See more »


(at around 10 mins) Breck Coleman leans his rifle against the water pump, then leaves it there and goes into the house. Not something a 'real' frontiersman would do. See more »


Breck Coleman, Wagon Train Scout: Say, Zeke, who was the he-grizzly that just went by?
Zeke: That's Red Flack. He's bullwhackin' for Wellmore. He's gonna whack Wellmore's train clear through to Oregon.
Windy Bill: You reckon you'll ever find out who downed old Ben?
Breck Coleman, Wagon Train Scout: It's just possible that a certain low-down coyote left his sign there.
See more »


Featured in Big Guns Talk: The Story of the Western (1997) See more »


When It's Harvest Time in Peaceful Valley
(1930) (uncredited)
Music and Lyrics by Robert Martin and Raymond McKee
See more »

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User Reviews

Pioneer Filmmaking Effort
12 April 2002 | by (Cleveland, Ohio) – See all my reviews

Only three years after Able Gance's "Napoleon," was released in the revolutionary Spherical (1:33:1) and Triptych (4:00:1 aspect ratio) process, Raoul Walsh's "The Big Trail" hit the market, shot in then-experimental "Fox Grandeur 70 mm."

That alone makes "The Big Trail" a technically significant film. Word has it that it failed economically, in part due to only two U.S. theatres presenting its original format (NYC's Roxy and LA's Grauman's Chinese Theatres). The rest of the country's movie houses balked at the cost of the extra equipment necessary, after having recently converted to sound. (Does this seem reminiscent of the "'Star Wars' digital satellite controversy" of 2002?)

Finding a VHS or DVD widescreen print of "The Big Trail" is difficult. It's been shown on tv and in special movie houses that way on occasion. Generally, though, one gets a standard screen version, which fails to capture the eye-popping 70 mm. aspect ratio of the original.

The production's statistics are impressive--a 347 cast/crew, covering 7 states in 10 weeks, replete with wagons, cattle, oxen, mules, horses, et al., retracing the first settler's trek over the Oregon trail one hundred years earlier.

Twenty year old Marion Morrison was renamed John Wayne and teamed with nineteen year old Broadway actress Margurite Churchill for a hoped-for "hot screen combination." The two worked efficiently, with Wayne's untrained, natural talent in evidence.

The production looks very laborious and challenging--yet appropriate to the conditions of those early pioneers. European "superiority" vs. Native American "savagery" is expressed in the script--establishing a skewed perspective for numerous films to follow. Likewise, macho "frontier justice" is forcefully dramatized--a model for many later western efforts.

"The Big Trail," while a technical landmark, also presents a Hollywoodized depiction of American history. For a more complete understanding of this period and these events, one is prone to engage in more committed and comprehensive research.

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