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The Big Trail

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Overview

The first "epic" western of the talkie era, The Big Trail is motivated by a hero's search for the murderer of his father. Twenty-three-year-old John Wayne, hitherto limited to bit parts, was thrust into the difficult leading role, a young mountaineer put in charge of a huge California-bound wagon train. Over the next several months, Wayne and his fellow pioneers face every imaginable hazard and disaster, from blistering desert heat to blinding snowstorms, negotiating steep cliffs, treacherous rivers, uncharted ...
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Overview

The first "epic" western of the talkie era, The Big Trail is motivated by a hero's search for the murderer of his father. Twenty-three-year-old John Wayne, hitherto limited to bit parts, was thrust into the difficult leading role, a young mountaineer put in charge of a huge California-bound wagon train. Over the next several months, Wayne and his fellow pioneers face every imaginable hazard and disaster, from blistering desert heat to blinding snowstorms, negotiating steep cliffs, treacherous rivers, uncharted forests and other such natural obstacles. Meanwhile, Wayne's tentative romance with heroine Ruth Cameron (Marguerite Churchill) is continually thwarted by a charming but duplicitous gambler (Ian Keith), and all-around villain Red Flack (Tyrone Power Sr.) and his henchman Lopez (Charlie Stevens) ceaselessly plot to double-cross the other wagon-trainers for their own financial gain. The Big Trail was a box-office disappointment, a fact which some have attributed its expensive production methods. Each scene was lensed twice, once in 35-millimeter and then in the 65-mm "Fox Grandeur" wide-screen process. And then, each dialogue scene was filmed in French and German, with totally different casts. Even if Big Trail has been a big hit, it would have lost money thanks to the time-consuming shooting and reshooting of virtually every scene. Whatever the case, it was John Wayne who suffered most from the film's failure; instantly demoted to "B"-westerns, it took him nearly a decade to rebuild his stardom. Long believed lost, The Big Trail was made available for exhibition again in the early 1970s -- and in the 1990s the original widescreen version was at last restored for public view.
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Special Features

Closed Caption; [None specified]
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide
The first major sound Western, The Big Trail is also one of the greatest of the early talkies. Filmed in an experimental 70 mm wide-screen format labeled Fox Grandeur and showcasing a raw young talent named John Wayne, it possesses a dramatic sweep and swagger that Hollywood would not capture again for some 20 years. From its opening scenes, it is a revelation, and its use of wide screen is not just a gimmick but instead is an effective means of conveying the enormity of the story. The plot and characters are outdated, there are some awkward attempts at comic relief, and the inevitable Indian attack -- complete with a circling of the wagons -- doesn't help matters, but overall, The Big Trail is cinematic storytelling at its best. Director Raoul Walsh visualizes for the viewers the sort of pressures the pioneers encountered, from devastating weather conditions to overwhelming physical challenges. But more importantly, Walsh's loose, rambling approach to the story helps create the impression that the travelers never quite knew what was going to happen next and were making solutions up as each new obstacle presented itself. Shot after shot is overflowing with incidental characters floating in and out at random and filled with a chaotic clutter that makes all of the wagons and possessions look well worn and battered. Much, if not all, of the film was shot on location, adding to the authentic atmosphere. The photography is strikingly beautiful, and the natural approach to sound is innovative. Wayne gives one of his best performances, Marguerite Churchill makes a memorable leading lady, and the supporting cast is balanced by Tully Marshall and Russ Powell as two of Wayne's old buddies. But Tyrone Power, Ian Keith, and Charles Stevens are laughably one-note villains, and Stevens' portrayal of a Mexican bandit is especially unsettling. The Big Trail almost certainly did not invent any of the Western clichés it employs, but it uses them in ways that make it one of the vital entries in the evolution of the movie Western.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 5/20/2003
  • UPC: 024543075356
  • Original Release: 1930
  • Rating:

  • Source: 20th Century Fox
  • Region Code: 1
  • Aspect Ratio: Pre-1954 Standard (1.33.1)
  • Presentation: Black & White
  • Sound: Dolby Digital Mono, Dolby Digital Stereo
  • Language: English, Español
  • Format: DVD

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
John Wayne Breck Coleman
Marguerite Churchill Ruth Cameron
El Brendel Gussie
Tully Marshall Zeke
Tyrone Power Sr. Red Flack
David Rollins Dave Cameron
Frederick Burton Pa Bascom
Charles Stevens Lopez
Russell Powell Windy Bill
Helen Parrish Honey Girl
Louise Carver Gussie's mother-in-law
William V. Mong Wellmore
Dodo Newton Abigail
Jack Peabody Bill Gillis
Ward Bond Sid Bascom
Marcia Harris Mrs. Riggs
Leslie Emerson Sairey
Gertrude Van Lent Sister from Missouri
Lucille Van Lent Sister from Missouri
DeWitt Jennings Ship's Captain
Alphonse Ethier Marshall
Marjorie Lee Mary Riggs
Frank Ramboth Ohio Man
Andy Shuford Ohio Man's Son
Ian Keith Bill Thorpe
Chief John Big Tree
Technical Credits
Raoul Walsh Director
Lucien Andriot Cinematographer
Marie Boyle Screenwriter
Jack Dennis Editor
Arthur Edeson Cinematographer
Arthur Kay Score Composer
Harold Miles Art Director
Jack Peabody Screenwriter
Florence Postal Screenwriter
Fred Sersen Art Director, Screenwriter
Winfield R. Sheehan Producer
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Scene Index

Side #1 --
1. Main Titles
2. To the Land Beyond
3. Old Friends
4. Pioneers
5. An Unpleasant Occurrence
6. Renegades
7. The New Scout
8. The Camerons
9. Nowhere to Go
10. Heading West
11. The Caravan
12. Ruth's Suitors
13. I'm Not Your Friend
14. Going Scouting
15. The Hunt
16. Crossing the River
17. Back From the Dead
18. The Cheyenne
19. Coleman's Squaw
20. Determination
21. The Desert
22. The Last Outpost
23. The Bartered Bride
24. Thrope's Last Shot
25. Murder
26. Indian Attack
27. Burying the Dead
28. Stuck in the Mud
29. No Turning Back
30. A Dead Man's Knife
31. Coleman's Law
32. Journey's End
33. Ruth's Plea
34. Frontier Justice
35. An Anniversary Present
36. End Titles/Exit Music
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Menu

Side #1 --
   Play
   Language Selection
      Languages: English Stereo
      Languages: English Mono
      Subtitles: English
      Subtitles: Spanish
      Subtitles: None
   Scene Selection
   Fox Flix
      The Comancheros
      North to Alaska
      The Undefeated
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 1, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Lost and Epic Grandeur

    In the late 20's, movie mogul William Fox envisioned a leap in motion picture production with the technical breakthrough of 70mm film in WIDESCREEN. Teaming with director Raoul Walsh, the result of this dream was the truly monumental western epic "The Big Trail" a rough, meticulously detailed depiction of pioneering settlers and their trek across the American wilderness in a covered wagon train from the mighty Mississippi River to a promised Eden-like valley on the Pacific Coast. The film was the first starring vehicle for a young John Wayne, and while his acting has rough edges, it is remarkable in it's foreshadowing of the great star he was to become. But the real star of the pictures are the visuals. It is completely startling to see a picture of this vintage in a giant frame, completely dwarfing the regular Academy ratio size of 1:33. In a time when film cheapening CGI makes everything (plastically artificially) possible, the sight of hundreds of actual wagons forging rushing rivers, or (in one amazing sequence) being dangerously lowered over the sides of a canyon brings back the most primal sense of excitement that cinema is capable of. Panoramic vistas are explored in ways that recall the earliest of photographs, and it is one of the great accomplishments of the film, that it's incredibly microscopic attention to detail makes us feel as if we are actually there, miraculously looking through an open window to an almost forgotten past. Director Raoul Walsh displays an almost uncanny sense of composition, especially considering no one had worked with such a widescreen before, and the photography expresses a solid deep depth of field far eclipsing the later early Cinemascope where a narrower depth of field led to distracting "clothesline" compositions of actors. Walsh's compositions are so expert they beg comparison with many of the later masterworks of Akira Kurosawa. Sound on the DVD is slightly above average for a film of this vintage, but the restored picture is remarkable in it's clarity, with only a few instances of graininess or emulsion defects. For comparison, this 2 disc DVD set also, sensibly, includes the alternate Academy ratio version of the film that has been virtually the sole representative of this film since it's release in 1930. It's a far lesser version of the film, but not without interest and a valuable inclusion in this set. Also
    included are a number of remarkable extras including fascinating documentaries on the history and development of this widescreen process (appropriately called Grandeur) and the sad economic reasons for it's failure, a detailed documentary on the young John Wayne and many other exciting extras that certainly make this the most valuable DVD release in years.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    A Great epic western.

    A GREAT epic western, with grandeur & true to the extreme trials & tribulations facing the early wagon trains & settlers crossing the Country to new lifes in the West.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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