DAKOTA (director: Joseph Kane; screenwriters: Howard Estabrook/Lawrence Hazard/from a story by Carl Foreman; cinematographer: Jack A. Marta; editor: Fred Allen; cast: John Wayne (John Devlin), Vera Ralston (Sandy Poli), Walter Brennan (Captain Bounce), Ward Bond (Jim Bender), Hugo Haas (Marko Poli), Mike Mazurka (Bigtree Collins), Olive Blakeney (Mrs. Stowe), Robert H. Barrat (Anson Stowe), Nick Stewart (Nicodemus), George Cleveland (Mr. Plummer), Ona Munson (Jersey Thomas), Pierre Watkin (Geary), Grant Withers (Slagin); Runtime: 82; Republic; 1945)
“Languid at times and poorly paced…”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A routine oater that seemed languid at times and poorly paced, and is bogged down in a cliché story of bad guys versus good guys. It’s set in 1870 during the post war days when the railroad expanded westward and America was building an empire. It features rugged cowboy John Devlin (Wayne) eloping with the daughter of a railroad tycoon, Sandy Poli (Ralston-the future wife of Herbert J. Yates, the owner of Republic Pictures). Sandy’s father Marko (Haas) tries to keep her from marrying the cowboy, but she slips out of the house with $20,000 she took from him and they outpace her father in their horse and carriage as they catch the railroad to Fargo, North Dakota. Sandy wants to go there because she has inside information that the railroad is putting down tracks there and she plans to buy some cheap land and become a big capitalist like her father. While Devlin wants to go to California and become a big capitalist there.
On the train they meet the bad guys, Jim Bender (Bond) and Bigtree Collins (Mazurka), and these two foil the couple’s greedy plan as they have an even greedier and more violent plan which involves cheating the land out of the scared wheat farmers. Bender is a saloon owner who runs Fargo according to his own laws and makes Bigtree the marshal. Before Devlin gets on a steamboat in the town near Fargo, a Mr. Stowe is gunned down in the street by Bender’s men. His dying words are a plea to tell Mrs. Stowe not to sell to Bender. The ineffective riverboat Captain Bounce (Brennan) and his Negro assistant, Nicodemus (Nick Stewart), in an embarrassing stereotype racial role, transport the couple to Fargo where Devlin is robbed of the $20,000 on the boat by Bender’s henchman Slagin. Without the money Devlin can’t compete against Devlin to buy up the land, as Bender burns out the homesteaders who resist him and kills the troublemakers who resist his plans to control all the land in Fargo.
Devlin rallies the farmers and fights Bender and his twenty gunmen until he defeats the one-dimensional villain by first out tricking him and then overrunning him. Devlin acts as a guardian angel to the good farmers of Fargo and gives them back their land, while his wife invests in a steamship line and thwarts Devlin’s efforts to go to California by committing him to stay here in Fargo and continue to help the farmers. Brennan, with a silly grin on his face, thanks Wayne for the chance to be a captain again after his other boat was destroyed.
There were a few good action scenes directed by stunt coordinator Yakima Canutt, which were the highlight of the film. The film was scripted from an original story by Carl Foreman (He was later to write High Noon–1952–but Dakota felt more like Low Noon).
John Wayne and director Frank Borzage refused to work with Vera Ralston, the Czech-born actress. Boss Yates got Wayne to change his mind, but Borzage was replaced by contract director Joseph Kane. Ralston was not bad in her role, as she was not the film’s problem.
REVIEWED ON 9/1/2001 GRADE: C –
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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