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"Western Union" is something of a forgotten classic western! Perhaps
the reason for this lies in the fact of its unavailability on DVD in
the United States. However, all is not lost as it has now appeared on
Region 2 in England. This - being a blessing in some ways - is not only
incongruous but totally ironic when one considers that a movie
depicting the founding and establishment of such a uniquely American
organization as The Western Union Telegraph Company is without a Region
1 release. It beggars belief! It simply doesn't make sense!
Produced by Fox in 1941 "Western Union" was directed by Fritz Lang. This was only the second occasion the great German director undertook to direct a western! He had done an excellent job the year before with Fox's "The Return Of Frank James" and would have only one more western outing in 1952 with the splendid "Rancho Notorious". Lang was no Ford or Hawks but with "Western Union" he turned in a fine solid western that holds up very well. Beautifully photographed in early three strip Technicolor by Edward Cronjager it boasted a good cast headed by Robert Young, Randolph Scott and Dean Jagger. The female lead is taken by Virginia Gilmore who really has little to do in the picture. An actress who never made anything of her career. Her presence here is merely cosmetic.
It is curious that Robert Young has top billing over Scott! It is clearly Scott's picture from the very beginning when we first see him in the film's terrific opening scene being chased by a posse across the plains. Young doesn't have much to do throughout the movie and seems out of place in a western. He just looks plain silly going up against Barton McLane in a gunfight! An actor who never really distinguished himself - except perhaps with "Crossfire" (1947)- Young appeared in a string of forgettable romantic comedies in the forties and fifties culminating with his greatest success when for seven years he was TV's "Marcus Welby MD" in the seventies. He died in 1998 at the age of 91.
"Western Union" recounts the connection by telegraph wire of Omaha and Salt Lake City. Scott plays a reformed outlaw hired by Western Union boss Dean Jagger to protect the line from marauding Sioux and to also take on McLane and his gang who are trying to destroy the line for their own devious ends. Robert Young is the young engineer from back east who joins the company and vies with Scott for the affections of Miss Gilmore. Some comic relief is provided by - and irritatingly so some would say - by Slim Summerville and John Carradine turns up in a meager role as the company doctor.
Altogether though a spanking good western, albeit on Region 2, but in sparkling good quality that fans will be delighted with. My only crib is that there are no extras, not even a trailer and that terrible cover with those dull graphics. UGH!
Footnote: Interestingly the associate producer on "Western Union" was Harry Joe Brown who later with Randolph Scott would create a partnership that would produce some of Scott's finest westerns in the fifties.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While it doesn't quite reach the giddy heights of 'Rancho Notorious', Lang's Western is still an excellent example of his art within formulaic genres. Given his career history until he reached America in studio bound, mono films, it is a surprise that his Westerns were so successful in conventional terms. But they were. Even the least remarkable, 'The Return of Frank James' is worth a viewing. Like that film, here too the colour cinematography is glorious, the leads sympathetic, the story exciting and involving.
Many of Lang's characteristic themes are here: fate, guilt/innocence, crime, and cruelty amongst them. Western fans will relish the strong part given to veteran heavy Barton MacLane as Scott's brother Jack Slade (even though the resemblance is hardly striking) - the sneering MacLane's face in close up, daubed in war paint, is a real sight to behold, a highlight of the film..
More unusually for Lang is the use of a comic sub plot, as Herman the cook struggles against the vicissitudes of his employment. Even today this tale of woe remains amusing making one regret, perhaps, that the director didn't go down this route more often. Lightly handled, too, is the romance triangle. Scott and Young make an excellent pairing in this context, and again the scenes are lightly amusing. This sort of play is more reminiscent of another German emigre, Lubitsch, than the more severe Lang.
The most shocking incident in the film is undoubtedly the death of Vince Shaw at the hands of his brother. Even those, like myself, who have seen the film several times, still hope against memory that in fact Jack Slade meets his deserved end at the receiving end of his brother's bullets. To see Scott die on screen is profoundly upsettling, even though his demise is (as the Hollywood code demanded) avenged shortly afterwards by the grim Blake. But for long seconds, as the burly villain prods Scott's body, as Scott's flaxen hair flaps lifelessly, we feel that the world is really out of joint.
This death, both inevitable and feared, is a typical Lang touch - as Scott's character has been ultimately fighting against fate through the film. In fact much of the time we have been aware of a paradox, one which is at the heart of the story: Scott/Shaw is presented to us as a man of action and mystery. In fact his relationship to his brother paralyses him in every sphere, except that of love. The hand that grips around Sue's locket can easily remind one of the destiny that closes on men. Ultimately Vince Shaw is as much trapped in a hostile universe as is Herman the Cook, but his fall is much the greater.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Blazing early technicolor is an awesome ingredient of this fast-moving Fritz Lang western featuring Robert Young and Randolph Scott in one of their best cowboy epics. Basically the story of their rivalry for the affections of a girl (Virginia Gilmore), as well as a story of how the telegraph brought communication to the wilderness. Some inept comedy is the only spoiler in an otherwise straightforward telling of an interesting tale. Randolph Scott is excellent as the man with a past hired to protect Western Union from Indian attacks. Robert Young is perfect as the dapper surveyor from back East. This must have been great "Saturday afternoon at the Bijou" sort of fare for kids and the elders who simply wanted to enjoy a good old shoot 'em up western with cowboys and Indians. It's still enjoyable on that level--and you'll see some of the best early technicolor ever captured on film. Deserves more recognition as one of the best of its kind.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I doubt if the real story of the development of Western Union would
ever have gained a real audience. Instead of talking about the building
of the telegraph system out west, it was the story of board rooms,
dominated by one of the most interesting (and disliked) of the great
"Robber Barons": Jay Gould. Gould picked up the struggling company and
turned it into a communication giant - and part of his attempt at a
national railway system to rival Vanderbilt's. But this, while
interesting, is not as exciting as the story of the laying of the
telegraph lines themselves. At least, that is how audiences would see
it. Jay Gould died in 1892. Had he lived into the modern era, and
invested in Hollywood, he probably would have agreed to that assessment
The film deals with how the laying of the telegraph system is endangered by Indians, spurred on by one Jack Slade (Barton MacLane). Slade, a desperado, is not happy with the development of a communication system that will certainly put a crimp in his abilities to evade the police in the territories. He is confronted by the man in charge of the laying of the telegraph wires, Edward Creighton (Dean Jagger), Creighton's associate Richard Blake (Robert Young), and a quasi-lawman Vance Shaw (Randolph Scott), who is Slade's brother. Blake, an Easterner with little understanding of the West, is romancing Creighton's sister Sue (Virginia Gilmore), but finds it hard to get used to his new surroundings. But he does become a close friend of Shaw, especially in trying to confront Slade.
Slade was a real Western criminal, by the way, and the subject of a section of Mark Twain's ROUGHING IT. He was hanged in the 1870s. But he did not have any involvement in stirring up Indians against railroads or telegraph companies. However, MacLane makes him a memorably evil, and totally vicious type. His killing of one of the major characters is done suddenly and from behind - and he views the corpse as though he has just got rid of an annoyance. But Lang is responsible for that, as well as other touches. Look at the sequence with Chill Wills, where he is on a telegraph pole repairing it. He spits tobacco juice several times while talking to Young, who gets a little splattered. Then there is an Indian attack which we watch from the ground level. At the conclusion, Young suddenly gets splattered again, but it's not brown but red that covers him. He looks up at the pole's top, and there is Wills with an Indian arrow through him.
It is an exciting film to watch, and well worth catching.
Now we use the internet and cell phones, but in 1941 when this film was released people still depended on the telegraph. Western Union tells the story of the people who were bringing the telegraph to the west. They all knew the Morse Code and we even learn that the word O.K. originated from them. Robert Young is the tenderfoot and Randolph Scott the tough man of the west. They both fall in love with Virginia Gilmore, the sister of the boss, Dean Jaggger. Scott is a former outlaw who is working for the company and has an inner conflict between his friendship to his old pals and his loyalty to Jagger. The same plot showed up in another Scott movie, Santa Fe. Fritz Lang did two unconventional westerns "The Return of Frank James" and "Rancho Notorious" but this western which can be considered conventional is the best of the three. The first scene, with Scott running away from a posse and passing through a herd of buffaloes is spectacular. The shootout at the end is very impressive. This film did not age, specially if you compare it with other westerns Scott made in those years.
Fritz Lang's "Western Union" is a entertaining movie with good heroes in Randolph Scott,the strong and silent man trying to escape his outlaw past,Robert Young as the easterner trying to conform to the code of the wild west,and Dean Jagger as the determined boss of the Western Union gang.I think the acting honors go to Dean Jagger who is very good in his part. Randolph Scott found his prototype of western hero in this movie and would play variations of that type in westerns to come for the next two decades.The movie looks very good in early Technicolor. Barton MacLane makes a good villain.I enjoyed this western much,although I consider it pretty standard stuff.
A good part of this movie was shot on location in southern Utah. When Fritz Lang arrived and saw the local Indians who were hired for the movie they were short stocky built people like many of the tribes in the southwestern area of the United States. This did not meet Langs idyllic picture of the tall thin and muscular Indian he had cultivated while he was still in Europe where he was already fascinated with the American west and its's western films. He promptly fired all of the local tribes people and had extras sent from central casting in Hollywood, most of whom were Anglo, to meet his view of Native Americans.
While escaping from a heist of a bank, the outlaw Vance Shaw (Randolph
Scott) helps Edward Creighton (Dean Jagger), the chief-engineer of the
Western Union that is surveying the Wild West and had had an accident
with a horse. In 1861, Vance regenerates and is hired to work for the
Western Union with the team that is installing the poles and cable from
Omaha to Salt Lake City. Vance and the engineer from Harvard Richard
Blake (Robert Young) flirt with the gorgeous Edward's sister Sue
Creighton (Virginia Gilmore) and she chooses Vance. However, his past
haunts him when the outlaw Jack Slade (Barton MacLane) steals the
Western Union cattle disguised of Indians.
"Western Union" is a good but predictable western directed by Fritz Lang. The story shows the difficulties of the brave and idealistic men responsible for installing the telegraph through the West, facing thieves and Indians. The entertaining story has action, drama, romance and funny situations, but with the exception of the identity of Jack Slade, there is no surprise in the story. Randolph Scott gives another magnificent performance with a great cast. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Os Conquistadores" ("The Conquerors")
Hard to believe this was directed by Fritz Lang since he mostly directed crime dramas and mysteries. This movie has a cast that includes Robert Young, Randolph Scott, Dean Jagger and John Carradine. Scott plays an outlaw who tries to go straight and leave his old gang and winds up saving Jagger's life. Jagger works for Western Union, a telegraph company that plans to have telegraphs out west. Jagger hires a lot of men to make sure it is done because they have to worry about Indian attacks and bandits. Scott is in charge of the men and Young is a telegraph expert who can't shoot a gun but can ride. Scott meets up with his old gang who want to stop them but Scott can't tell anyone. It's a pretty good western and Lang should of directed some more westerns.
No one ever really believed that Randolf Scott was a gun toter; he seemed
too gentle for that. But the veneer of respectability he gave to his roles
helped reinforce the western morality of good superceding evil. Nowhere is
this poetry more evident as in Western Union , directed by one of film
noir's most gifted geniuses Fritz Lang, here working equally adeptly in
colour. The shot of unfinished telegraph lines snaking away into twilight
oblivion leaves lasting impressions.
This western prophecies the long professional relationship between producer Nat Holt and Randolf Scott which ran from 1946 and turned out cliché-westerns which weren't cliches at the time, and which, with practice improved till there was a kind of visual poetry about them. This isn't the history of Western Union, the way the western isn't the history of the old west. But it seems to relate a kind of truth, and that's what matters.
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