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As Mormon settlers head to the promised land at the San Juan river in Utah, they hire horse traders Travis Blue and Sandy as wagon masters. They have to forge a trail across unknown territory and face many hardships along the way. They quickly come across some stranded travelers, a medicine show run by Dr. A. Locksley Hall which includes the attractive Denver. Along the way however, they are also joined by Shiloh Clegg and his murderous clan of robbers and thieves. An encounter with the Navajo leads to an invitation to their camp but after one of the Clegg boys gets a whipping for attacking one of the Navajo women, Uncle Shiloh plans his revenge. It's left to Sandy and Travis to protect the travelers and get them to their destination. Written by
In the beginning of the film, when Travis on the horse talks to the marshal, he folds his right leg leaning it on the saddle horn. In the next shot he is with his right leg hanging unfolded. See more »
Sure hope that I see you again, Miss Denver.
Thanks, but don't plan on it, We move around. The medicine show has to, to stay healthy.
We move around a lot trading horses. Good thing about it, though, you get to see a lot of pretty country, like the valley I got in mind. A man can make an awfully nice little cattle ranch in that valley. If he doesn't mind being lonesome.
Good luck, fellow.
[She runs away, blinded by tears]
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This little picture succeeds where many a big picture fails. Because it was a little picture, John Ford was not harassed by the studio big wigs. He was happier with this film than any other because he was able to do it his way. He was also able to use his repertoire of gifted character actors that had played such an important role in his past successes. Some of them such as Ben Johnson had been discovered by Ford and given opportunity to show their talents. Johnson was recruited by Ford because he was an authentic cowboy from Oklahoma who usually did his own stunt work. Years later he would win the coveted Academy Award for his brilliant performance in "The Last Picture Show." Ward Bond even outshines Ben Johnson in this movie. He is not the wagon master, that role is played by Johnson, but because of this movie he was later given the role of wagon master in the classic television series "Wagon Train." Ironically one of the bad guys in "Wagon Master," James Arness, would star in the hit television series "Gunsmoke" on a rival network to "Wagon Train." Ward Bond plays the leader of the Mormons heading west who often backslides to his sinning days by cussing only to be called down by fellow Mormon Adam Perkins (Russell Simpson). When any bothersome situation arises Elder Wiggs (Ward Bond) yells, "Blow your horn, Sister Ledeyard!" The Mormon sister, played to perfection by Jane Darwell, then blows so hard and loud that even the devil must have been shaken by the sound. Darwell and Simpson were famous for playing Ma and Pa Joad in Ford's classic version of the John Steinbeck novel "The Grapes of Wrath."
Another of the great character actors in Ford's company was Hank Worden, who plays one of Uncle Shiloh Clegg's notoriously mean but not too bright outlaw sons. Worden would become famous a few years later for playing Mose in Ford's "The Searchers." Worden lived to be 91. He was still making movies when he died.
The wagon master Travis Blue (Ben Johnson) and his partner Sandy (Harry Carey Jr.) are horse traders who never take their job seriously, having a lot of fun along the way, especially with the local sheriff. They get mixed up with a Mormon wagon train heading west. Ford's beloved Monument Valley is the setting for most of the film. The main reason for the teaming is a redheaded Mormon beauty Prudence Perkins (Kathleen O'Malley) who catches Sandy's eye. Along the way the train picks up a hoochie coochie show which includes a charlatan doctor (Alan Mowbray) and two soiled angels (Joanne Dru and Ruth Clifford). Also joining up along the way is the Clegg family, wanted for murder and armed robbery. Ford shows how arduous a journey west by wagon was in those days.
The songs in the film were written by Stan Jones of the legendary Sons of the Pioneers. Jones' writing was almost as good as that of Bob Nolan, who had previously done much of the writing for the group. Jones' most famous song, not in this film, is the much recorded "Ghost Riders In The Sky." The Sons of the Pioneers do the background singing in "Wagon Master." This adds to the overall impact of wagons rolling west.
It should also be noted that the acclaimed Native American athlete Jim Thorpe from Oklahoma plays the role of a Navajo leader. This was his last film appearance. He died not long after "Wagon Master" was released.
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