Monday, Apr. 25, 2011

Wagon Master (1950 Movie)

One of the few films John Ford directed from his own story, Wagon Master uses many of the plot elements — the trekking Mormons challenged by Indians and threatened by violent white nonbelievers — from Brigham Young a decade earlier. The group's splenetic leader, Elder Wiggs (Ward Bond, later the conductor of TV's Wagon Train), hires two horse traders, Travis and Sandy (Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr.) to lead them to the promised land. Sandy comes in handy when he negotiates with the skeptical Navajo in their own language, telling Wiggs that the chief "says the Mormons are his brothers. Says they ain't big thieves like most white men. Just little thieves." ("Right complimentary, ain't he?" Wiggs observes.) Shot the same year Ford completed his cavalry trilogy of Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande, this more modest effort is among the director's most relaxed films and was one of his personal favorites. Wagon Master is as much a musical as a Western: the Sons of the Pioneers contribute four songs, and there's a spirited rendition of the Mormon hymn, "Come, Come, Ye Saints."