The Way West (1967)
User ReviewsReview this title
Douglas plays an ex-senator bent on starting the first white colony in Oregon in 1848. The problem is that he's not exactly 'Mr. Personality'--and his abrasive and autocratic ways rub everyone in the wagon train wrong. Can he get them all to his promised land or will the folks ditch him and make for California? Tune in and see.
For the most part, this is a pretty ordinary drama about settling the West. As for Douglas, he overacts more than usual (and what's with that whipping scene?!?!). Widmark's character is inconsistent and underwritten. The only lead who comes off well is Mitchum--as a weary Kit Carson-type. Aside from being pretty ordinary and predictable, the film did have a few pluses. There was nice cinematography and as a history teacher, I appreciated how they showed lots of mules, oxen and cows pulling the wagons--whereas most films only show horses (a mistake). But this isn't enough to raise it above mediocrity.
The American West has a turbulent and mighty history , some of which is told in story and folk songs . Here is a panoramic view of the American West, concerning on the dangers, hazards, travels and tribulations of pioneers set against the background of breathtaking landscapes and risked deeds, including Indians attack and one deeply cliff. Particularly impressive for its notable cast list and expansive Western setting. Any Western that play stars such as Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, Richard Widmark and Sally Field -film debut- is at least worth a glimpse. Furthermore a magnificent secondary casting, as Jack Elam, Stubby Kaye, John Agar, John Mitchum, among others. Sadly this epic Western doesn't hold up that well on TV set because was released on the great screen and much of the grandeur of the original version is lost. But Shootém-up and spectacular scenarios fans won't want to miss a chance to see many of the genre's greats in one movie. This is an epic movie , photographed in gorgeous Technicolor by William Clothier- John Ford's usual cameraman-, adding lustre on the groundbreaking sweep, along with an emotive musical score by Branislaw Kaper. The film is splendidly filmed on locations in America's National forests and professionally directed by Andrew W McLagen.
The main plot thread follows an ambitious and cruel visionary named William Tadlock (Kirk Douglas), who dreams of taking hundreds of people into the vast, unexplored wilderness of the Wild West and starting up a new town. His ambition is an obsession. It drives him and dictates his every move. Even his own family come second in his list of priorities. During the journey, his behaviour towards the other pioneers becomes increasingly irrational and unsympathetic, and in the end he loses the respect of his fellow travellers.
There are some good moments in the film. The climax is really surprising, with a twist that few viewers will predict. Sally Field has some interesting scenes as a young girl who undergoes a sexual awakening during the trip. There's also a well done scene in which a man who has killed an Indian child by accident is hanged. However, the abundance of plot threads, characters and subplots is a big drawback. The makers should have concentrated on a few elements and done them really thoroughly, instead of cramming in so much and only dealing with the themes in a shallow and all-too-brief fashion. This is not bad, I suppose, but it could have been oh so much better.
"The Way West" is a fairly entertaining if conventional movie.In 1960 ,Anthony Mann did a better job -about the same subject-with "Cimarron".
LITTLE SPOILER HERE Of the three leads ,only Douglas is given a relative interesting part:the actor has enough talent to overcome the weaknesses of the plot and he sometimes look like an old patriarch,some kind of Moses leading his people to the promise land.He can be particularly cruel and brutal and like Moses,he won't see the new world it's never too late to build. END OF SPOILER
As for Widmark ,he's cast against type as a nice man with wife and son,and he cannot make anything with it,and Robert Mitchum is cast as Robert Mitchum,period.
A strong scene:an Indian boy has been killed by the Whites and his father demands justice.Douglas's character takes here harshness to new limits and during this long sequence,the audience is really panting for breath.MCLaglen ,probably influenced by Delmer Daves's lyricism,superbly uses the Indians here.
An offbeat touch comes from the doomed Mack couple:the bride does not want to consummate the wedding and the husband consoles himself with a young Sally Field (her cinema debut)who was already hamming it up.
The sad thing is that The Way West definitely had some potential to be a classic. In these days of political correctness, a film about American pioneers and the travails of their westward migration is something not done now. It should have been better done back then.
Kirk Douglas is a former United States Senator who's heading a wagon train west to build a settlement in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Being he's an ex-politician, he rates above the hoi ploi he's leading. The script calls for him to have not only a covered wagon, but a carriage to lead the train.
You think that's ludicrous, you ought to see the whipping scene where Douglas orders his black servant, played by Roy Glenn to whip him. I won't spoil it by saying what causes Douglas to demand this of Glenn, but trust me, it's bad.
Robert Mitchum is the trail guide and of the three stars he looks the most bored. There was supposed to be considerable friction on the set between Widmark and Douglas, but Mitchum just saunters through the film above it all.
Maybe the friction helped somewhat because the movie calls for Douglas, a widower, to have an eye on Mrs. Widmark, played by Lola Albright. Now she's the best looking thing in the movie.
The film billing says introducing Sally Field. This was made in between her Gidget and her Flying Nun days. She plays a piece of white southern trash with the musical comedy name of Mercy McBee. We first see her in the movie sitting on the back of her parents wagon, legs akimbo and inviting. Of course she gets taken up on her invitation.
Her character is something like what's found in every trailer park in America and then again what was a wagon train, but one large trailer park on the move.
Despite this film, Sally Field went on to a two Oscar career. What that woman had to overcome.
Victor McLaglen's son Andrew directed this item and together with a lousy script turned this into a turgid mess. Shame on Andrew McLaglen, he's certainly done better in his career.
And so will you, unless you're a stargazer.
The Way West is pretty much a gigantic mess, in which three big stars, Kirk Douglas, Richard Widmark and Robert Mitchum, show up to cash checks. Not surprisingly, Mitchum almost literally sleep walks through his role as a grizzled old mountain man/trapper/trail guide. It's disappointing, because it's the type of role he could have been good in, if he had been motivated.
Here's what I liked:
- this was the film debut of Sally Field, who looks about 16 years old. She does the best acting in the film also.
- the relationship with the Indians was handled pretty realistically.
- very nice location shooting. A lot of effort went into capturing panoramic Western vistas. t
Here's what I didn't like:
- Robert Mitchum wears about the most ridiculous looking cowboy hat I've ever seen in a Western.
- There is a bizarre scene where Kirk Douglas orders the film's only black character to whip him. I'm not kidding.
- SPOILER HERE: I will say that the movie was interesting enough that I watched it until the end. I'm sorry I did, because the movie climaxes with Kirk Douglas' character being murdered by a woman driven insane by her frigidity. Hard to believe, I know. Makes you almost sorry there was a sexual revolution in the 60's. This would have never happened to Randolph Scott.
Steve Tadlock, Lakeside Ca. "God's Country" No stinking immoral liberal democrats here !!!
MacLaglen never was a very imaginative director. He just sort of pushed his films ahead following the scripts and taking no risks at all by including some personal touches or feelings; that's why it is hard to find really bad pictures in his filmography but you also won't find higher than average films either (other examples are "The Undefeated" with John Wayne and Rock Hudson; "The Last Hard Men" with Charton Heston, James Coburn and Barbara Hershey; "The Sea Wolves" with Gregory Peck, David Niven and Roger Moore). "The Way West" is a classical MacLaglen movie, just standard, average and light with no big flaws and no major highlights either.
Kirk Douglas, Richard Widmark and Robert Mitchum are good but wasted in the leading parts. Sally Field's early role as a young girl too avid for man's favors showed she had talent and a promising career she certainly fulfilled.
All in all, "The Way West" is just for western fans to spend a couple of hours without much expectations.
Almost universally panned and patronized as director Andrew V. McLaglen's attempt to ape the style of his mentor John Ford, it's actually an innocuous, inoffensive adventure saga in the mold of How The West Was Won or Raoul Walsh's The Big Trail, though not as good as those films. It's still fairly watchable, except for the endless, obnoxious subplots featuring teenage Sally Field and her deflowering by a married, frustrated loser!
Douglas and especially Mitchum are excellent, as usual. However, Widmark falls a little short, thanks to a less than interesting character, though he's always a welcome presence in anything he's involved in.
Andrew McLaglen's direction plays out like an episodic television play, which makes sense in light of the fact that he cut his teeth on television. The musical score, especially the accompanying singing, is an embarrassment, and difficult to listen to without cringing. And with their perfectly coiffed hair, impeccably clean outfits and carefully applied makeup, the entire cast looks as though they're headed, not to Oregon along a dusty trail, but to a Halloween party.
Filmed in the mid sixties, it has the misfortune of not fitting in with the cinematic times. Released near the presentation of such films as Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate and In the Heat of the Night, it's a tale told too late.
It's just a shame then, that I have to agree with many others on this site, as well as critics of the time, when agreeing that the movie, when judged on its entirety just doesn't really work.
It's not really the fault of its all star cast. It's a hoot to see Sally Field in her film debut, playing a character light years away from The Flying Nun in behaviour. The big triumvirate of Douglas, Mitchum and Widmark, all give it their best shot, though at times I feel Douglas is guilty of over-acting and Mitchum's Dick Summers is a notably passive role, where surprisingly he rarely if ever dominates the screen. The supporting cast is diverse, with many having plenty of western experience.
For me the problem lies in the drama content of the story. There really isn't enough time spent with the major characters and the collective dynamic of the challenge of managing the wagon train. Instead we get too much time spent with the situation travails of the Mack family (fairly minor characters in the scheme of things) and later Mercy McBee. It results in a film with some justifiable claims to be an epic tale, ending up having all the dramatic punch of a typical weekly episode of the old TV series Wagon Train. The cheesy song that occasionally imposes itself on the soundtrack doesn't help intensify the drama quotient either.
The film can be compared to an attractive postcard. The front may be great to look at, but the story on the back just amounts to some brief, sketchy lines.
But the longer if goes on, the more you feel as if you have seen it before...and you have...there are a lot of wagon train clichés here. But let's think about that for a minute. Clichés are often based on truth, and on a wagon train journey of this scope, I rather imagine many of these trials and tribulations -- and many more -- faced the pioneers. Heck, I hate driving through some of these states on an Interstate due to the risks of breaking down and being stranded. Taken one by one, there isn't an incident here that I could discount. Again, it's just that we've pretty much seen them all before.
The problem I see here is that we never learn very much about the main characters. Who is Senator William Tadlock (Kirk Douglas). What makes him like he is? Is he just the type that likes to be boss? I think that's way too simplistic. Who is Dick Summers (Robert Mitchum). He seems rather passive here; we do finally learn that he is going blind...maybe that's why. No character development at all. We know the most about Lije Evans (Richard Widmark)...although that's darned little. All the characters are far too simplistic. And for that, I blame the writers, producer, and director.
Kirk Douglas is VERY restrained here...and I'm not sure that's why most of us went to the theater to see a restrained Kirk Douglas. Robert Mitchum is very passive as the guide, but as I mentioned earlier, perhaps that was because of his approaching blindness. Or,maybe he was just walking through this role. Richard Widmark, often an underestimated actor, probably comes off the best here.
The supporting cast includes Lola Albright (as Widmarks's wife; and she does well here); Jack Elam as a preacher of sorts (he does well); Sally Field in her film debut, here as a somewhat slutty young woman (perhaps her worst screen portrayal); and oddly enough, Stubby Kaye as one of the pioneers.
I have a hard time recommending this film UNLESS you are really into Westerns, or like gorgeous scenery, or want to contemplate how the early pioneers must have suffered on the way west. It's not that it's a bad film...it's just not that good, either.
The film includes three established big-name stars in the shape of Kirk Douglas as Tadlock, Robert Mitchum as Dick Summers, the expedition's hired guide, and Richard Widmark as Evans. Sally Field, in the early part of her career better known as a television actress but later to become a major Hollywood star herself, also appears in her first big film role as Mercy. Douglas rarely played an outright villain, but his characters were not always outright heroes either; he was also capable of playing conflicted or morally ambiguous individuals. Examples include Midge Kelly in "Champion" and Jonathan Shields in "The Bad and the Beautiful", and Tadlock is another. This is not Douglas's greatest performance- certainly not as good as the two just mentioned- but it does show his ability to create characters who are flawed but not wholly unsympathetic.
Tadlock is an idealist with a vision of America's destiny to open up the vast expanses of the West, but is also abrupt, autocratic and apt to alienate people. He can also be devious, as when he manufactures a smallpox scare in order to prevent his followers from accepting a British offer to settle down short of their goal. (At this period the Oregon Territory was jointly ruled by the United States and Great Britain). There are, however, also times when we feel for him, especially when his young son is killed in an accident. Another difficult moment comes when Johnnie Mack shoots and kills an Indian boy. The killing was an accident- Johnnie thought he was shooting at a wolf- but because the boy was the son of a chief the Indians demand justice. The senator is reluctantly forced to hang the young man, knowing that if he does not the entire wagon train is likely to be massacred. In doing so, however, he makes an implacable enemy of Amanda.
Like "How the West Was Won", this film is probably best seen on the big screen, but until my local cinema decides to run a season of lesser- known Westerns from the sixties- which will doubtless be "never"- I will have to content myself with seeing it on television. Like many Westerns from the fifties and sixties it features some striking photography of the magnificent scenery of the American West; like some other films about east-to-west journeys across the continent (such as "The Far Horizons") it concentrates more on the passage through the Rocky Mountains than on the crossing of the less conventionally picturesque Great Plains. There is one particularly striking sequence where the pioneers lower their wagons, their livestock and themselves over a cliff with ropes in order to avoid a lengthy detour before winter sets in.
"The Way West" is never, in my opinion at least, likely to rank among the really great Westerns. Yes, the photography is good, but photography alone is not normally enough to qualify a Western, or any other film, for greatness. ("Days of Heaven" may be an exception to that last statement). Despite all those big names in the cast, there is no really outstanding acting performance, and the film lacks the strength of characterisation and the moral depth of something like "The Naked Spur", "The Big Country", "The Shootist" or "Lonely Are the Brave", possibly Douglas's best Western. It is a good film, but falls some way short of classic status. 7/10
It is an absolutely traditional western in the old style, telling the story of a wagon train carrying a mixed batch of settlers to a new life, with the story being a mixture of the trials and tribulations they encounter on the way, and the soapy goings on among the people travelling. Among the former are Indians, crossing a deep canyon etc., and among the latter are the power struggles between those in charge (Kirk Douglas, Richard Widmark, Robert Mitchum - similar to the battle for top billing, one imagines), and the saucy antics of little Mercy McBee (Sally Field in her first credited movie role, putting in a performance which manages to be winsome and slutty all at the same time).
This movie looks great - the landscape photography is wonderful - but is otherwise a completely routine western of the old school.
1843 and a former U.S. senator leads a wagon train of settlers to Oregon where he plans to build a new town. However, his rules of discipline and organisational skills leads to growing dissatisfaction with his leadership.
Frustrating! Such potential with the cast and story to hand, that The Way West meanders along and outstays its welcome is a crying shame. The blame is shared around, though, the screenplay doesn't offer up much for the cast to get their teeth into, which means Mitchum phones it in and Douglas tilts over the edge in trying to liven proceedings. McLaglen isn't confident enough to spruce the narrative with excitement, choosing instead a more maudlin approach as the many "pioneer character" threads start to feel superfluous to the story's worth. Especially bad is a teen romance between Field and McGreevey, as unnecessary as it is distracting.
Clothier's photography around the various Oregon locations is superb, fit to be in a John Ford movie in fact. The vibrant landscapes and the 100% outdoor production ensure there is at least some good to take away from the movie. We can also say that the odd interjection of drama, such as that involving the accidental killing of a Sioux child - and the subsequent "internal" discipline that follows - maintains interest. But once we reach the finale, and Widmark's Lije Evans yells it's on to Oregon, you may find yourself angry that Clothier and yourself deserved a far better movie. 5/10