Randolph Scott (Vance Shaw), Robert Young (Richard Blake), Dean Jagger (Edward Creighton), Virginia Gilmore (Sue Creighton), John Carradine (Doc Murdoch), Slim Summerville (Herman), Chill Wills (Homer), Barton MacLane (Jack Slade), Russell Hicks (governor), Victor Kilian (Charlie), Minor Watson (Pat Grogan), George Chandler (Herb), Chief Big Tree (Chief Spotted Horse), Chief Thundercloud (Indian leader), Dick Rich (Porky), Harry Strang (henchman), Charles Middleton (stagecoach rider), Addison Richards (Captain Harlow), Irving Bacon (barber), Francis Ford, Eddy Waller (stagecoach drivers), James Flavin, Frank Mills, Ralph Dunn (men), Paul E. Burns (Bert), Cliff Clark, Hank Bell.
Director: FRITZ LANG. 2nd unit director: Otto Brower. Screenplay: Robert Carson. Based on the 1939 novel by Zane Grey. Photographed in Technicolor by Edward Cronjager and Allen M. Davey. Film editor: Robert Bischoff. Art directors: Richard Day, Wiard B. Ihnen. Set decorator: Thomas Little. Costumes: Travis Banton. Music director: David Buttolph. Technicolor color consultants: Natalie Kalmus, Morgan Padelford. Associate film editor: Gene Fowler Jr. Sound recording: Bernard Freericks, Roger Heman. Western Electric Sound System. Associate producer: Harry Joe Brown. Executive producer: Darryl F. Zanuck.
Copyright 21 February 1941 by 20th Century-Fox Film Corp. New York opening at the Roxy: 6 February 1941. U.S. release: 21 February 1941. Australian release: 29 January 1942. 8,602 feet. 95 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: Despite Indians and outlaws, Western Union constructs a telegraph line from Omaha, Nebraska, to Salt Lake City, Utah.
NOTES: Although Irving Bacon is credited as Joe, the barber, in the credits of the print under review, the part — in this version at least — was played not by Bacon but by Olin Howland.
These credits also state that the art directors were Richard Day and Albert Hogsett. Both Wiard B. Ihnen and 20th Century-Fox dispute this credit. Both maintain that Mr. Hogsett had nothing to do with the sets for Western Union and that they were in fact designed by Ihnen, under Day's general supervision.
COMMENT: A really memorable western which fully justifies its high reputation. Spectacularly produced, with action a-plenty, agreeably acted, superlatively photographed, with lots of forceful Lang touches in direction.
From the opening credits, underlined by Buttolph's stirring score, through the opening shot of the buffalo with Scott (or at least his double) hard riding into their midst, the pace hardly ever lets up until the final unexpected fade-out.
Aided by marvelous color photography, the clever script (which actually owes little but its title to the Zane Grey novel) introduces at least six or seven rousing action episodes. All built around some particularly daring stunt-work. Good to see Robert Young doing a fair bit of his own riding, but most impressive of all is Dean Jagger, caught making his own leap from an overturning wagon. Of course, Jagger, aside from this action spot, is much his usual limp blanket, but at least he isn't in the movie all that much.
Also slightly on the negative side of the cast roster is Virginia Gilmore, a little too postcard pretty, in my opinion, to be wholly believable.
Lack of credibility is certainly not a charge that can be leveled against Randolph Scott who is every inch your typically laconic, torn-twixt-love-and-duty western hero. Unlike Gilmore, Scott really looks the part. Young is effective too. Slim Summerville is along for comic relief. Whilst some of his antics are a trifle forced, we like Slim anyway. A bearded (and unrecognizable were it not for his distinctively rich voice) Victor Kilian makes a surprisingly effective stooge.
Led by John Carradine (made up to look like the Henry Hull character in "Return of Frank James"), many of our favorite character actors can be spotted along the way, including the here ill-fated Chill Wills (in a straighter part than usual); Francis Ford as the stage driver with whom Summerville tries to escape; James Flavin as a member of the bank hold-up posse; Russell Hicks as a governor reduced to horse holder; George Chandler as the victim of an "Indian" attack.
Best of all is Barton MacLane as the notorious Jack Slade whose humor is strained by his kinship with our hero.
In an interview with Peter Bogdanovich, Lang remarked that audiences tend to remember the visual aspects of a film rather than the dialogue. I'm inclined to agree with this observation, yet there's a scene in Western Union which amply demonstrates Lang's mastery of both. Kilian bets Carradine a week's wages that Chandler won't last the night, despite the doc's best efforts to save him. Later, Carradine silently exits his tent, peels off a wad of notes into Kilian's waiting hand, and without a word slowly walks off. Kilian cheerfully calls after him: "Better luck next time, Doc!"
Lang tops all the spectacular action with a suspenseful double climax which ends the movie on a totally unpredictable note.
OTHER VIEWS: The best of Fox's traditional western epics. — William K. Everson.
The most beautiful and epic of Lang's westerns (it was the director's personal favorite), "Western Union" is an outstanding entry in the genre. — Motion Picture Guide.
Action / History / Western
Action / History / Western
Vance Shaw gives up outlawing and goes to work for the telegraph company; his brother Jack Slade leads outlaws trying to prevent the company connecting the line between Omaha and Salt Lake City. Lots of Indian fighting and gunplay.
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July 18, 2016 at 11:48 PM