Saturday, 16 May 2009

No. 129 : Wagon Master



If you took every wild west cliché, stuck them in a blender and filmed the result you’d end up with something a lot like ‘Wagon Master’. It’s not a bad film as such but it has suffered from many of its elements becoming so familiar that you know pretty much what’s going to happen before the opening credits roll.

The film opens with a bank robbery with the miscreants escaping with one of their number wounded. We then switch to a pair of horse traders who are made an offer by a group of Mormons who plan to travel the desert to the new territories in the west. Our happy pair are reluctant at first but decide to help out when they consider the women and children rather than the hefty pay cheque.

The wagon train goes as expected with encounters with Indians and the bank robbers we saw earlier. The bad guys decide to take over the train for its food and water but when one of their number is lashed to appease the Indians we know some pay off is coming. As well as their bad guy guests the train also take on a lost group of medicine sellers who have a couple of saucy ladies in tow.

The perils are slight and although the baddies are of the moustache twirling variety they don’t offer much in the way of menace. The film is a relatively short 85 minutes and even this running time is padded with four songs. These Mormons are fun guys, going as far as to drag a dance floor out into the desert for their hoe down.

The film was directed by John Ford and you do get the sense that this rather throwaway effort was an exercise in testing locations and equipment for ‘Rio Grande’ which he made the same year at the same site in Monument Valley, Utah.

The cast are OK with the two leads a bit too nice to convince as pioneer horse traders. The burlesque ladies are similarly well appointed with nary an ankle on view. The best was Ward Bond as the Mormon Elder who was never far off swearing a blue streak. The bad guys were fun too with the buck toothed hill billy the pick of the litter. Uncle Shiloh, the pack leader, was great too with perhaps the least convincing bit of deceit that you’ll ever see at the end.

This film won’t last long in the memory but it is a well made and reasonably exciting yarn which although lacking sex, danger or violence has a decent streak of malevolence running through it. The outcome is never in doubt but it’s a short and pretty satisfying desert yomp to get there.

Best Bit : Shoot out finale

‘W’ Rating : 15/23

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