Two wagon caravans converge at what is now Kansas City, and combine for the westward push to Oregon. On their quest the pilgrims will experience desert heat, mountain snow, hunger, and ... See full summary »
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
Very early John Ford western, don't bother looking for John Wayne here! "The Iron Horse" tells the story of the building of the railroad across America from the East to West coasts. Of course this is a movie so we also get a romance plot, a vengeance plot, hostile Indians, corrupt officials, jovial Irishmen, nasty Indians and so forth.
Although the tone of the film is mostly pretty patriotic and upbeat, there are several darker moments that hint at the corruption and greed in business as landowners attempt to influence the route of the railroad with bribes of women and money. Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in the West" amongst many other later Westerns takes this theme further. Much of the work is done by Chinese immigrants, but they all seem pretty cheerful here!
In many areas the film is inevitably dated, particularly it's comic scenes and the aforementioned treatment of racial stereotypes. There are a few landscape shots and action scenes, but none as stunning or exciting as in Ford's slightly later "Stagecoach". The 2 hour plus running time is also a little too much. However, the film does succeed in creating an overwhelming sense of achievement in the creation of the railroad, although the sense that 'Civilisation' may actually be a threat, developed in later Westerns, is already apparent with the saloon that doubles as a court of law, and a drunken judge.
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