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Sunday, October 26, 2014

WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951)

You can feel a bigger, better picture struggling to climb out of this well-made Western, but the basic situation is strong enough to keep things memorable. William Wellman, a very uneven director, often finds a tough, handsome plainness in this straight-forward saga of a west-bound wagontrain with 140 good woman, ‘hired brides’ led by handful of men. The original idea was from Frank Capra, who probably planned something plusher & starrier. It's a gimmick, but a good one, adapting well to Wellman’s harsher treatment as the women get forced into doing a man’s work. As wagonmaster, Robert Taylor still shows a nap of charm on his rough exterior, his lack of variety less problematic surrounded by so many strong, broadly drawn women. And if the story seems to be missing pieces here and there, it keeps a move on, with someone killed off in almost every reel and convenient dramatic dodges kept to a minimum.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Everybody gets mated up at the end, except for Henry Nakamura, the film’s winning, short-of-stature Japanese cook. All he gets is a little doggie for company. Maybe because he doesn’t touch a pot or pan in the whole pic.

DOUBLE-BILL: John Ford’s WAGON MASTER/’50 is the obvious choice (with Mormon travelers in for women). But John Wayne’s THE COWBOYS/’72 matches up even closer with a bunch of kids forced to do a man’s job on a cattle drive.

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