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In the 1830's beaver trapper Flint Mitchell and other white men hunt and trap in the then unnamed territories of Montana and Idaho. Flint marries a Blackfoot woman as a way to gain entrance into her people's rich lands, but finds she means more to him than a ticket to good beaver habitat. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
When the horse with Gable's son runs away. the child is originally on the right side of the horse. The succeeding shot shows him on the left side of the horse. Later shots show him back on the right side. The anomalous shot is shown again later with the baby now on the correct (right) side, indicating that the film had been flipped. See more »
Bernard DeVoto won a Pulitzer Prize for history in 1948 for his 1947 book, "Across the Wide Missouri." Some sources say that after MGM bought the film rights, the studio threw away everything except the title. That's hardly the case, because this film does a very good job of showing life in the early days of the American Northwest. DeVoto's book, and this film are mostly about the native Indians and the white trappers known as mountain men. The latter were a breed of early pioneers that flourished in the 19th century from about 1810 to the early 1880s.
The stage was set for all of this in 1803 when the U.S. acquired the Louisiana Territory from France. The 828,000 square miles doubled the size of the young nation. The purchase brought in all the lands west that drained into the Mississippi River. But most of the lands west of the Missouri River had not yet been explored. President Thomas Jefferson got Congress to approve an expedition to explore the Northwest to the Pacific Ocean.
After the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806, written accounts of it aroused great interest in the East. The mountain men became the first Americans of European descent to migrate to the region. They went first as trappers and explorers who made their living in the lucrative fur- trade. The mountain men peaked in numbers around 1840, at the time the largest U.S. migration began over the 2,200-mile Oregon Trail.
The mountain men helped open the emigrant trails. They explored and lived and dealt mostly at peace with the various Indian tribes. This movie shows all of this very well. MGM filmed the movie in Southwest Colorado, from Durango to Silverton. The spectacular scenery adds to the value and enjoyment of the film.
I am a history buff and during the years leading up to and through the 2004-2006 bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, I spent most of my summer vacations traveling and visiting sites along the Lewis and Clark route. One of my guides for these trips was "The Journals of Lewis and Clark," written by Bernard DeVoto in 1953. DeVoto and Lewis and Clark give excellent accounts of the Indians of the time. This movie covers two groups that are prominent in the journals the Blackfeet and the Nez Perce.
I wonder how familiar the playwrights might have been with the journals. Their story of the young Indian maiden in the movie is similar to that of a real person with Lewis and Clark. Here, Kamiah is of the Blackfeet tribe. She was captured and raised by the Nez Perce. In the Lewis and Clark Expedition, a young Indian wife of a French Canadian trapper, Toussaint Charbonneau, became an invaluable guide across the Indian lands of the Northwest. She was Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian from the Snake River country of Idaho. She had been captured by the Hidatsa and taken to their village along the Missouri River in what is now North Dakota. At age 13, she was sold to Charbonneau as a wife.
This movie has a large cast of first-rate actors. Clark Gable is excellent as Flint Mitchell. Adolphe Menjou excels as Pierre. Maria Elena Marques is dazzling as Kamiah. All the actors who played major Indian parts were very good. Ricardo Montalban plays Ironshirt, John Hodiak is Brecan, J. Carrol Naish is Looking Glass, and Jack Holt is Bear Ghost. The rest of the mountain men and the supporting cast of Indians add to the historical feel and enjoyment of the film.
There was an apparent controversy arose over this film. From the various accounts I've read, it's not even clear what it was all about. The studio head at the time apparently chopped quite a lot out of the film. Enough, that director William Wellman disowned the movie and said he would never watch it. He alluded to the best action parts being taken out. Apparently, James Whitmore, who plays a mountain man, Old Bill, had much more of a part, and most of his film time was cut out. It would be nice to see a director's cut, which probably no longer exists.
But that aside, I think this is still a first-rate film. It has action, scenery and a beautiful story told about a very interesting time and place in America's history. From that standpoint alone, it is much more valuable than the two popular mountain men pictures that were made, "Jeremiah Johnson" (1972) and "The Mountain Men" (1980).
"Across the Wide Missouri" is a film that most should enjoy. It's an excellent snapshot of a pioneer period of the American West.
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