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Engineer Johnny Munroe is enlisted to build a railroad tunnel through a mountain to reach mines. His task is complicated, and his ethics are compromised, when he falls in love with his boss's daughter. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
James Agee's review of the film included one of the most famous critical quotes of all time: "Several tons of dynamite are set off in this film, none of it under the right people." See more »
In the closing scenes where the engine and the bridge span fall into the torrent below, Johnny (John Wayne) escapes by running along the tops of the wagons. It is obviously a stunt man since his body shape and hair are different from that of John Wayne's. See more »
Big romance, rugged action...but none of it quite convincing
An appealing role for John Wayne, rugged but not quite a western archetype. This RKO Technicolor big budget film is unusual for that studio (it was their biggest movie to date), and they snagged Wayne along with Anthony Quinn. Somehow, as good as it is in many ways, it lost a million dollars (a whole lot for the time). It's good, however, and watchable, if still a bit contrived within its wild Andes excess.
Though set in the mining roughneck edge of the mountains, this is a romance. Wayne, a savvy worker and engineer, falls in love with the mine owner's daughter. That never goes well, and it yet it goes very well at times. The love affair is sweet and innocent, due both to Wayne's scruples and to the leading woman's equally good intentions. This is Laraine Day, a good Nixon Republican who was faithfully Mormon her whole life. She's charming and truly attractive in the movie star mould of the day, and was an MGM star of some importance during these years. I think Wayne and her have an odd, believable consonance, and since they make so much of the movie, they hold it all together well.
The larger plot is about a conflict in how to manage building he railroad. This sets up the structure for the different social strata of the leading characters (Wayne and the mine owner), but it distracts somewhat from the other, deeper plot. The scenery vibrates, the music pulses, the romance is intense.
Whatever the general predictability of the plot, the story is well enough done, and warm enough (it's not a gritty tale, whatever the dirty environs), it makes you want to watch. There might be a social message in here somewhere about individualism and hard work, about true love in the face adversity, about the ruthless power of money, about the folly of building things without getting permission first (actually), and so on. But it's not convincing enough on any level to quite take it so seriously.
Why did the movie fail so miserably? For one it's a kind of grandiose movie that audiences were probably a little familiar with. For another, this was the total height of the film noir boom, which is essentially the opposite kind of film. And for another, the female star was not a particular draw, and Wayne was so completely known by this point as a cowboy, the casting might have doomed it from the start.
In the end, after fighting the elements of the hot mountain desert, the mine owner sells it all and goes, with his woman, to what he calls paradise. Where? Vermont.
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