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TELEGRAPH TRAIL, THE (director: Tenny Wright; screenwriter: Kurt Kempler/from the story by Kurt Kempler; cinematographer: Ted D. McCord; editor: William B. Clemens; music: Leo F. Forbstein; cast: John Wayne (John Trent), Frank McHugh (Cpl. Tippy), Marceline Day (Alice Keller), Otis Harlan (Uncle Zeke Keller), Albert J. Smith (Gus Lynch), Yakima Canutt (High Wolf), Lafe McKee (Lafe), Al Taylor (Jonesy); Runtime: 54; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Leon Schlesinger; Vitagraph/Warner Brothers; 1933)
“Duke, the Miracle Horse, does a better acting job than most of the supporting cast.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This B-Western is strictly for John Wayne fans and horse lovers of Duke, Wayne’s horse (later his nickname). Duke, the Miracle Horse, does a better acting job than most of the supporting cast. The story is too obvious and unbelievable to hold one’s attention. John Wayne as John Trent, is a cavalry scout who is assigned in 1860 to a cavalry unit in the western wilderness where the first transcontinental telegraph wire is being put up to take the place of the pony express and link the entire country. In the way of the telegraph going up is Gus Lynch (Albert J. Smith). He’s the kind of bad dude you hiss at, as he connives with the Indians under High Wolf (Yakima Canutt) to make sure the telegraph wires don’t get put up by telling the chief as soon as the ‘singing wires’ are up the white man plans to kill all of the tribe.

In the opening scene pony express rider Jonesy gets killed trying to relay a message by telegraph of the Indians destroying the wires and attacking a supply wagon heading out to the telegraph workers in the field. Trent, when he learns of his pal Jonesy’s death, exclaims: “Those ‘red devils’!” The company commander spares Trent and his pal Cpl. Tippy (Frank McHugh) from their regular duties to help make sure the wagons get through.

Zeke Keller (Otis Harlan) owns the general store in town, and is forced to pay more for his products because the only one able to supply him is Gus–the sleazy trader. Gus never gets robbed by the Indian raids, and has made a fortune since the raids started. Arriving by stagecoach is Zeke’s attractive niece Alice (Marceline Day), who is told by her uncle she should marry the town’s richest man–Gus–something he promised as part of his business dealings with him. Alice rebels and points to a photograph of a complete stranger she finds lying around in the store, who happens to be Trent, and tells the surly Gus she’s engaged to him.

Once John Wayne arrives on the scene the action begins and the bad guy and the Indians on the warpath are dealt with as expected. In the end Wayne gets promoted to captain for his heroics and wins the heart of Alice. Low-brow comic relief is provided by Harlan and McHugh, who while drunk are firing at the attacking Indians while seeing double or more.

Much of the action footage was stolen from The Red Raiders (1926).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”