(director: Andrew V. McLaglen; screenwriters: from the book by A.B. Guthrie, Jr./Ben Maddow/Mitch Lindemann; cinematographer: William H. Clothier; editor: Otho Lovering; music: Bronislau Kaper; cast: Kirk Douglas (Sen. William J. Tadlock), Robert Mitchum (Dick Summers), Richard Widmark (Lije Evans), Sally Field (Mercy McBee), Lola Albright (Rebecca ‘Becky’ Evans), Jack Elam (Preacher Weatherby), Katherine Justice (Amanda Mack), Michael Witney (Johnny Mack); Runtime: 122; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Harold Hecht; United Artists; 1967)

“Victor McLaglen’s son Andrew directed in a lackluster way this dreary epic of the move Westward.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Victor McLaglen’s son Andrew directed in a lackluster way this dreary epic of the move Westward. It’s about a wagon train of settlers in 1843 leaving Independence, Missouri, to trek to Oregon. It’s adapted from A.B. Guthrie Jr.’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel; the meandering script, compliments of Ben Meadows and Mitch Lindemann, helps greatly in ruining the fine book (not an easy thing to do!).

Former Senator William J. Tadlock (Kirk Douglas) is a sadistic but high-minded leader of the wagon train, who dreams of a creating a New Jerusalem. We know he’s serious because he’s a windbag who is prone to give a visionary speech while standing on elevator shoes every time he looks for more than a sec at the camera. Tadlock hires the laid-back Dick Summers (Robert Mitchum) to be trail guide, he has been in mourning the past few years because his Indian wife died (he remembers her by wearing her cool Indian hat, something a hippie might give up a week’s stash to possess). While farmer Lije Evans (Richard Widmark) is the leader of the settlers, and has caught the ‘Oregon fever.’ The 21-year-old Sally Field makes her debut as a white trash teenager named Mercy McBee, who tries her hardest to get laid.

The melodrama has a combination of interpersonal conflicts and natural travel problems due to the terrain: Lije and Tadlock clash over everything, river crossings are rough, an Indian problem that could instigate an attack when an Indian boy is mistaken for a wolf and is accidentally killed by newlywed Johnny Mack (Michael Witney), and plenty of soap opera stories gleaned from among the pioneer farmers, family types, bankrupt bankers, con men, religious fanatics, parolees, and adventurers.

Only cinematographer William H. Clothier’s lush Fordian shots of the picaresque trek along the Oregon Trail registered as something worth seeing. Otherwise there’s a hammy, scene-stealing Douglas to put up with, a disinterested Mitchum who shows he’d rather be fishing than acting, and the assorted courageous pioneers who try to tells us why they have given up everything to take this dangerous journey across the rugged Oregon Trail to start a new life.