In 1862, Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads compete westward across the wilderness toward California.In 1862, Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads compete westward across the wilderness toward California.In 1862, Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads compete westward across the wilderness toward California.
The movie starts similar to The Plainsman, in Washington after the Civil War, with politicians turning their eyes to the West, in this case to the railroad destined to join the two coasts. The purpose of these scenes, of course, is to emphasize the historical importance of the story. DeMille is creating an epic narrative here, subscribing to the notion os Manifest Destiny exactly like he did in the Plainsman.
Then we are introduced to the main characters, and still it seems like this is going to go the same way of The Plainsman, where there was a certain lack of narrative focus, because of trying to include too much material in the story. As this movie goes on, however, it finds its focus, and manages to combine spectacular action with a focused character-driven story.
We do get a feeling of the epic and historical narrative DeMille is going for, but we also get some pathos in the characters' stories, with two friends that find themselves fighting on different sides of the conflict, and at the same time competing for the love of the same woman. Don't miss scenes like the tense showdown after the robbery.
Once you get over her exaggerated Irish accent, Barbara Stanwyck is excellent, feminine following the standards of her time, but far from a helpless damsel. Joel McCrea brings less to the table as the square-jawed hero, although his unexpressive toughness does the job for his role. Robert Preston is quite good in his supporting role, as McCrea's friend now turned crook.
As expected, I was entertained, but I also could get invested in the story in a way that I couldn't with The Plainsman. I have no doubt that, while based on a real epic like the Transcontinental Railroad project, it takes many liberties and completely disregards historical accuracy in order to create dramatism and conflict. But I know that and I accept it as long as the story is worth it. And this one is.
- Dec 7, 2020