Pamela Blake and James Craig in The Omaha Trail (1942)


(director: Edward Buzzell; screenwriters: Hugo Butler/story by Jesse Lasky Jr.; cinematographer: Sidney Wagner; editor: Conrad A. Nervig; music: David Snell; cast: James Craig (Pat Candel), Pamela Blake (Julie Santley), Dean Jagger (‘Pipestone’ Ross), Edward Ellis (Mr. Vane), Chill Wills (Henry Hawkins), Donald Meek (Jonah McCleod), Howard Da Silva (Ben Santley), Henry Morgan (Henchman Nat), Morris Ankrum (Job, a thug), Iron Eyes Cody (Friendly Sioux); Runtime: 61; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack Chertok; MGM; 1942)
“Routine but lively MGM Western.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Edward Buzell (“Go West”/”Ship Ahoy”) directs this routine but lively MGM Western. It has a few songs, some comic relief, a tepid romance story, and your typical of the period Indian fight that involves a circling of the wagons. The script is by Hugo Butler and the B & W film is based on a story by Jesse Lasky Jr. It takes place in the waning days before railroads, when ox trains hauled freight out west.

Mouth-harp playing Pat Candel (James Craig) and his sometime crooning partner Henry Hawkins (Chill Wills), who will sing two songs that both are written by the director, are drifters who find themselves working on a wagon train. When they reach town, they get hired for $15,000 by railroad man Mr. Vane (Edward Ellis) in the town of Habersford, Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi. Vane hires them after watching them handle card cheaters in a bar and is satisfied that they are tough hombres who will make sure his locomotive gets to Omaha by wagon train to prove to the Chicago businessmen that it’s time to lay tracks and replace the slower ox trains with a railroad. “Pipestone” Ross (Dean Jagger) is the major freighter in the area who realizes he will be out of business if the locomotive gets through and decides to sabotage the transport, even willing to kill, after he’s hired on the Omaha trek because he owns all the oxen in town. But the understanding is that Candel is in charge of the trip, no matter what. Also along is Ben Santley (Howard Da Silva), who works for Pipestone. Ben’s pretty sister Julie (Pamela Blake) is engaged to Pipestone, who promises to buy her the biggest house in the territory when he gets to Omaha. When Candel sees Julie, he falls in love at first sight and asks her to marry him.

On the trail Pipestone’s goons, led by Nat (Harry Morgan), cause the wagon wheel pin to break, which nearly kills the engineer Jonah (Donald Meek) and Candel, and causes Vane to break his leg. When that attempt doesn’t work due to the heroics of Candel, Pipestone’s thugs shoot two friendly Sioux in the back. This causes an Indian raid which is repelled. As a last resort, Pipestone leaves the Candel party stranded on the trail without guns. But our hero prevails and as expected settles the score with the villain and gets the girl.


REVIEWED ON 11/28/2005 GRADE: B-