WESTWARD THE WOMEN
(director: William A. Wellman; screenwriters: Charles Schnee/based on a story by Frank Capra; cinematographer: William C. Mellor; editor: James E. Newcom; music: Jeff Alexander/Henry Russell; cast: Robert Taylor (Buck Wyatt), Denise Darcel (Fifi Danon), Hope Emerson (Patience Hawley), John McIntire (Roy E. Whitman), Julie Bishop (Laurie Smith), Lenore Lonergan (Maggie O’Malley), Marilyn Erskine (Jean Johnson), Beverly Dennis (Rose Meyers), Henry Nakamura (Ito), Renata Vanni (Mrs. Maroni); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Dore Schary; MGM; 1951)
“Wonderfully ridiculous feel-good offbeat western based on the story by Frank Capra.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
William A. Wellman (“Across the Wide Missouri”/”The Robin Hood of El Dorado”/”Blood Alley”) directs this wonderfully ridiculous feel-good offbeat western based on the story by Frank Capra and written by Charles Schnee. In 1851, in California, wealthy rancher settler Roy Whitman (John McIntire), of Whitman Valley, hires the misogynist hard-boiled trail guide Buck (Robert Taylor) and fifteen men to bring 100 women from Chicago across the country to be mail-order brides for his mateless lonely men. Roy promises the men on his ranch good women as wives. In Chicago, Roy does the recruitment of 140 women and Buck does the scare bit on the women, describing how hard the journey will be just to see if they have the right stuff to make the rough trek. Buck also warns them not to fraternize with his men, and he will later dismiss one of the men for violating that agreement and killing another for rape. Some of the women recruited include: the aging widow of a New England sea captain, Patience (Hope Emerson); the farm girl Maggie O’Malley (Lenore Lonergan); Rose Meyers (Beverly Dennis), who is pregnant without a husband; the Italian window traveling with her adolescent son, Mrs. Maroni (Renata Vanni); and the feisty French-born Fifi Danon (Denise Darcel) and Laurie Smith (Julie Bishop), who are two prostitutes looking for a new life.
Buck leads the expedition from Independence, Missouri through the wilderness crossing the Rockies, the Great Salt Lake and the desert. Because of the harsh conditions several women succumb, there are Indian attacks, and many other mishaps to keep the wagon train hopping with action. But the women prove to be capable pioneers and many survive. Most of the male drivers defect en route with the women or are killed in the Indian attacks, but Buck and his droll funny, common sense wise man and courageous Japanese cook Ito (Henry Nakamura) are the only men survivors. The surviving gals bravely take the place of the men drivers and navigate the difficult mountain passes to make it safely to their destination. The climax has the ladies choosing their partners in the Promised Land, not the men. And to boot, Buck gets tamed by Fifi.
The film is played mainly for comedy, and it gets a few laughs while it also shows the ladies learning to become more masculine as they handle guns and the reins of the wagon train and becoming equally good pioneers as the men. The black-and-white film looks good, and Wellman made it look more authentic as a pioneer crossing over harsh terrain by having his cinematographer, William Mellor, use filters as sparingly as possible. This gives the film an impressive austere sunbaked look.
REVIEWED ON 12/3/2007 GRADE: B