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    The Big Trail

    20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 104 mins . G . PAL


    Legendary tracker Brett Coleman (John Wayne) comes home to join the Oregon trail in pursuit of several baddies who killed two of his friends. Mistaken identity leads to hijinks on the romantic front as they make their way across treacherous landscape and through fearsome Ďinjunsí. Among the hundreds of settlers, Coleman soon weeds out the wrongdoers, who then try their dangedest to eliminate him. Tensions run high throughout the deadly G-rated game of cat and mouse, but comic relief is provided in the clumsy sitcom of a Dutch family making their way north with the rest.

    Good all-round family fun ensues in this 1930 classic, with crazy stunts and madcap dialogue set to bring the Oregon trail to brilliant black and white life.

    It appears every actor in this film is new to the Ďtalkiesí, and certainly John Wayne is. He must have been about 15 when this was shot, judging by his fresh-faced looks. With some stilted dialogue and a pretty thin plot, the film doesnít appear to have much going for it, but somehow I couldnít stop watching it. Perhaps it harks back to a simpler age when you could kill a man for fun and get away with it, or perhaps it was the stiff romance blooming among harrowing ordeal, I donít know. It has a certain charm to it, with overstated actors portraying exaggerated theatre roles (the Trail Boss being among the most guilty) that I found endearing to a degree.


    The filmstock has obviously been restored, but there must have been so much to restore that the myriad of embedded scratches and fibres couldnít all be dealt with. For example, nearly the whole last third of the film has a scratchy black line that runs vertically the length of the screen. There are occasional film jitters and wobbles as well, but for the most part, this is a fairly watchable old movie.

    Parts of the film struggle with the demon of poor lighting, particularly outdoor shots of wagons on the plains, but these really only occur during unimportant ongoing establishing shots. There are some awesome scenes of landscapes and forests that probably donít exist today, and the size of the giant redwoods at the end have to be seen to be believed. The snow/wind machine usage is a little heavy-handed and obvious in the studio shots as well, but the snows donít last long. Generally though, for such an old, old film, itís looking as good as it could short of time travelling back to get an original print.


    Itís hard to determine if the audio has been restored as well, because in parts there is heavy scratching and noise, but in others itís practically crystal clear. That's an old mono soundtrack for you I guess. The music is whiny and tinny for the most part, but adds authenticity to the heroic age of this film. There are a few problems with the Native American war-whoops drowning out dialogue and the gunfire is that horribly loud studio sound effect spliced into the footage. Again though, the sound is not too bad. Sure itís grainy and awful at points, but you wonít have much trouble following the dialogue and storyline due to it.


    No extras, Iím afraid. I guess even the trailer hasnít survived the slow passage of time.


    Due to it being part of a set, this seems to be the Ďcharity brotherí of the other films. Itís the only one of its age (by a long shot) and the only one in black and white. And itís the only one where The Duke is waiting in line for his throne, and not sat firmly upon it. As to story content, itís simple but an interesting slice of the 1930s moviemaking industry. Itís a nice grudging romance as well and does lead (perhaps a leetle slowly) to the final conclusion featuring frontier justice. It sits pretty well in a John Wayne set because itís obviously John Wayneís first major Western, and therefore worthy of inclusion.

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      And I quote...
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