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The Iron Horse (1924)

Passed | | History, Romance, Western | 4 October 1925 (USA)
After witnessing the murder of his father by a renegade as a boy, the grown-up Brandon helps to realize his father's dream of a transcontinental railway.

Director:

John Ford (uncredited)

Writers:

Charles Kenyon (story), John Russell (story) | 2 more credits »
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
George O'Brien ... Dave Brandon
Madge Bellamy ... Miriam Marsh
Charles Edward Bull Charles Edward Bull ... Lincoln
Cyril Chadwick Cyril Chadwick ... Jesson
Will Walling ... Thomas Marsh
Francis Powers Francis Powers ... Sgt. Slattery
J. Farrell MacDonald ... Cpl. Casey (as J. Farrell Macdonald)
Jim Welch Jim Welch ... Pvt. Schultz / Pvt. Mackay (as James Welch)
George Waggner George Waggner ... Buffalo Bill (as George Wagner)
Fred Kohler ... Deroux
James A. Marcus ... Judge Haller (as James Marcus)
Gladys Hulette ... Ruby
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Storyline

Springfield, Illinois. Brandon, a surveyor, dreams of building a railway to the west, but Marsh, a contractor, is sceptical. Abraham Lincoln looks on as their children, Davy Brandon and Miriam Marsh, play together. Brandon sets off with Davy to survey a route. They discover a new pass which will shave 200 miles off the expected distance, but they are set upon by a party of Cheyenne. One of them, a white renegade with only two fingers on his right hand, kills Brandon and scalps him. Davy buries his father... Years pass. It is 1862 and Lincoln signs the bill authorizing construction of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railways. Marsh is principal contractor and Miriam is engaged to Jesson, the chief engineer... Crews of Chinese, Italians, and Irish work to build the railway while resisting Indian attack. When the pay train is delayed by Indian ambush, the Italians go on strike. Miriam persuades them to return to work... Marsh needs to find a shortcut through the Black Hills. To ... Written by David Steele

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

THE WEDDING OF THE RAILS! ONE OF AMERICA'S MOST THRILLING HISTORICAL DEEDS--THE DRIVING OF THE LAST SPIKE FOR THE TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILROAD (original ad - all caps) See more »


Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

4 October 1925 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Iron Trail See more »

Filming Locations:

Santa Clarita, California, USA See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$280,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$942,889, 31 December 1925
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Fox Film Corporation See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (TCM print)

Sound Mix:

Silent

Color:

Black and White (tinted)

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

When on location, the crew built a large town set in which many of the buildings had practical rooms. These rooms soon became living quarters, holding areas and storage space. The editing lab was set up in the post office set. See more »

Goofs

Pony Express riders are shown under attack from Indians in 1867. The Pony Express was in operation from 1860 to 1861 when it was rendered obsolete by the telegraph. See more »

Quotes

Judge Haller: [as Jesson and Brandon are about to have a showdown in the saloon] This town's a law an' order town - an' this fight's goin' to be conducted legal!
See more »

Alternate Versions

The DVD release of this film contains two different edits, one for the American market and one for Europe. The American release is 16 minutes longer than the European cut. The American cut is dedicated to the memory of Abraham Lincoln while the European release is dedicated to the memory of George Stephenson. In the American release Fred Kohler's character is named Deroux while in the European cut his character is named Bauman. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) See more »

Soundtracks

Blow the Man Down
(uncredited)
Traditional 19th Century Sea Chanty (1860s)
[Integrated into restoration score into divorce and going back to work scenes]
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Where East Meets West
8 October 2005 | by lugonianSee all my reviews

THE IRON HORSE (Fox, 1924), directed by John Ford, is an story set during the middle of the 19th century America about the building of the first Transcontinental Railroad. One of the very best examples of a lavish scale western produced during the silent era, said to be the answer to Paramount's earlier production of THE COVERED WAGON (1923), but most importantly, the first major project for Ford after nearly a decade in the director's chair to now gain the recognition he truly deserves.

The story opens with a prologue set in Springfield, Ill., 1853, revolving around Davy Brandon, first as a youngster (Winston Miller) with deep affection towards Miriam Marsh (Peggy Cartwright), his childhood sweetheart. Davy's father (James Gordon) is a surveyor who dreams about the crossing of the western wilderness, while Miriam's father, Thomas Marsh (William Walling), is a skeptic. However, one of the citizens, Abraham Lincoln (Charles Edward Bull), believes in this man's theory and knows he'll accomplish his means. Setting out to accompany his father on a mission to survey an appropriate route through the mountains for the coming railroad, Davy bids a tearful farewell to Miriam. During their westward journey, Davy, who is hidden away because of foreseen danger, witnesses the brutal killing of his father by a white man dressed up as an Indian whose only identification if the loss of a thumb and two fingers on his right hand. After burying his father, Davy is taken in by a passing scouting party. A decade later, 1862, Abraham Lincoln is president of the United States; Davy (George O'Brien) is a Pony Express rider out to fulfill his father's dream leading into the building of the Transcontinental Railroad; and Miriam (Madge Bellamy), now engaged to Peter Jesson (Cyril Chadwick), an Eastern surveyor working for her father actually working for Deroux (Fred Kohler), the richest landowner, who stands to profit if the railroad goes through instead of through the pass. After being reunited with Miriam, Jesson finds himself in stiff competition. The two men become bitter enemies, especially after Jesson's attempts in doing away with him. Matters become complex until the golden spike gets hammered into the rail on that historic day of 1869 as east meets west through the continental railroad.

In the supporting cast are Gladys Hulett (Ruby); Jack O'Brien (Dinny); three musketeer pals of J. Farrell MacDonald (Corporal Casey); Francis Powers (Sergeant Slattery); and James Welch (Private Schultz), as well as historical figures of Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickock and John Hay enacted by George Wagner, John Padjan and Stanhope Wheatcroft.

THE IRON HORSE (title indicating the locomotive train) plays like a D.W. Griffith production with prologue, historical figures, flashbacks and epilogue, and like a screen adaptation to an Edna Ferber novel telling its story through the passage of time, along with soap-opera ingredients (complicated love triangle), but no usual conclusions of central characters going through the white hair and wrinkles aging process. Overall, this is John Ford's storytelling, cliché as it may be, placing fictional characters against historic setting, along with the oft-told murder-mystery subplot of a son out to avenge his father's killer, a historical movie that's become an important part of cinema history. Ford, the future four time Academy Award winning director, with a handful of motion pictures to his credit, best known for westerns, would provide similar themes in his future film-making. As popular as THE IRON HORSE was back in 1924, it's amazing that Ford didn't attempt doing a remake, especially in 1939 when westerns reached it peak of popularity. It took Cecil B. DeMille to attempt a similar story with UNION PACIFIC (Paramount, 1939) starring Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea. Like THE IRON HORSE, UNION PACIFIC, which tells its story in over two hours, features villains, Indian massacres and thousands of extras.

George O'Brien, a rugged actor, was an ideal choice for the role of Davy Brandon. Although he worked under Ford's direction numerous times in latter years, and showed his capability as a dramatic actor in F.W. Murnau's SUNRISE (1927), he never achieved major stardom. He did work steadily mostly in "B" westerns through the early 1950s. Co-star Madge Bellamy offers her typical heroine performance, caught between two men who vie for her affection, but is far from being a strong character. While the acting overall is satisfactory, from today's viewpoint, some heavy melodramatics as the method of fainting by youngster Davy after witnessing his father's massacre, or Bellamy's performance in general, might provoke some laughter. Scenes such as these can be overlooked by great location scenery as Monument Valley, a race against time and action scenes typically found in Ford westerns.

Television history to THE IRON HORSE began when it became one of the movies from the Paul Killiam collection to air on public television's 13-week series of "The Silent Years" (June-September 1975), hosted by Lillian Gish. In her profile about THE IRON HORSE (accompanied by an excellent piano score by William Perry), Gish talks about its location shooting in the Nevada desert, the use of 100 cooks to feed the huge cast, and 5,000 extras consisting of 3,000 railway workers, 1,000 Chinese laborers, many horses and steers. Decades later, THE IRON HORSE made it to the American Movie Classics (1997-1999) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere December 9, 2007 ) accompanied by orchestral score with 15 minutes of additional footage as opposed to the 119 minutes presented on both "The Silent Years," and the Western Channel in 2001. Distributed to home video Critic's Choice in 1997, availability on DVD came a decade later.

THE IRON HORSE may not be historically accurate as promised through its opening inter-titles, but it's sure an ambitious John Ford production to still be entertaining today. (****)


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