Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Westward the Women (1951)

I think I mentioned somewhere else my general dislike of conventional westerns and my love for those who break the mould of the genre. So a western about women should fit that, no? Enter William Wellman, a man who could who seemed to have been born to break barriers in his films, and the result is “Westward the Women”.

It’s the story of a group of around 150 who depart from Chicago to California in 1851 to marry men they never seen before. This is before trains, a time when, as they put it, a third of them will die during the journey. And boy, you understand it. This is not your usual MGM film where you leave feeling good. Not at all. You really can feel their discomfort, their fears, the accidents, the deaths. And that’s even with two or three of the most crucial moments in the film happening offscreen. And by not showing the obvious, by letting your imagination run, you get much more powerful reactions.

The film has only one big name in its cast, a no-longer-as-young Robert Taylor (and I had seen him a few days before in his matinee idol’s peak – Borzage’s “Three Comrades). The only other face I recognised was Hope Emerson’s (playing Prudence, the no-nonsense widow). Still, it proves that if you have a good story and a good head at the helm, a quality cast of mostly unknowns can still produce something exceptional. Pity that no one sees this nowadays, and less and less imagination goes into casting.

Also, a bit of trivia from IMDb which I thought delicious – and I can confirm it because I did find it a bit strange although I didn’t think too much of it at the time: "Denise Darcel's French-language dialog includes a few words which prove that no one in the 1950's version of the Hays Office understood French. Some of the terms she used while angry at "Buck Wyatt" [Taylor's character] would never have gotten past the censors in English."

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