The Big Trail: Wikis

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The Big Trail

Movie Poster for The Big Trail
Directed by Raoul Walsh
Produced by Winfield R. Sheehan
Written by Hal G. Evarts (story)
Marie Boyle
Jack Peabody
Florence Postal
Fred Sersen
Starring John Wayne
Marguerite Churchill
Tyrone Power, Sr.
El Brendel
Music by Arthur Kay
Cinematography Lucien Andriot
Arthur Edeson
Editing by Jack Dennis
Distributed by Fox Film Corporation
Release date(s) 1 November 1930
Running time 125 min.
Country  United States
Language English

The Big Trail (1930) is a lavish early widescreen movie shot on location across the American West starring John Wayne in his first leading role and directed by Raoul Walsh.

In 2006, the United States Library of Congress deemed this film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Contents

Plot

Breck Coleman (John Wayne) is a young adventurer seeking to avenge the death of an old friend. He suspects Red Flack and his minion Lopez, so he joins a wagon of settlers heading West under Flack's supervision. Meanwhile, he finds love with young Ruth Cameron, whom he'd kissed accidentally, mistaking her for somebody else. Unwilling to accept her attraction toward him, Ruth gets rather close to a gambler acquaintances of Flack's, Thorpe, who joined the trail after being caught gambling. Coleman and Flack have to lead the settlers west, while Flack does everything he can to have Coleman killed before he finds any proof of what he's done to Breck's friend.

Cast

Production

Filming began in April 1930. During production, John Wayne fell sick from dysentery and was nearly replaced as the lead.

Legend has it that the director Raoul Walsh had co-star Tyrone Power, Sr. almost beaten to death for forcing himself on the leading lady, Marguerite Churchill. Power would die just a year later from a heart attack.

Although the 23-year-old Wayne delivered an intriguing and charismatic performance as wagon train scout Breck Coleman, the expensive shot-on-location movie was financially unsuccessful as a result of being the first widescreen release during a time when theatres would not change over due to the encroachments of the Great Depression. After making The Big Trail, Wayne found stardom only in low-budget serials and features (mostly B-westerns). It would take another nine years—and the film Stagecoach—to return Wayne to mainstream movies. Actor Ward Bond had a minor role in the film that foreshadowed many future appearances in Wayne projects, especially in films directed by John Ford. Bond developed a successful career playing character roles and later portrayed wagonmaster Seth Adams in the similarly-themed TV Western Wagon Train.

The Big Trail was shot in an early widescreen process using 70mm film called Fox Grandeur which was first used in Fox Movietone Follies of 1929. Widescreen, along with Technicolor, were picked up by movie studios as the next big technological advancement for films in 1929. In 1930, a large number of films were produced which featured either widescreen or color. Color fared better than widescreen because no special equipment was needed to view color films whereas theatres needed to buy special projectors and screens to project widescreen films.

Late in 1930, however, when the effects of the Depression were beginning to be felt by the public, studios abandoned the use of widescreen and color in an attempt to decrease costs. Because only a small number of theatres could play widescreen films, two versions of the widescreen films were always simultaneously filmed, one in 35 mm and one in the 70 mm Grandeur process. By doing this, the film would be able to be played throughout the country in 35mm at the same time it was being played in deluxe theatres capable of screening widescreen films.

The wagon train drive across the country was pioneering in its use of camera work and the stunning scenery from the epic landscape. An extraordinary effort was made to lend authenticity to the movie, with the wagons drawn by oxen and lowered by ropes down canyons when necessary. Tyrone Power's character's clothing looks grimy in a more realistic way than has been seen in movies since, and even the food supplies the immigrants carried with them were researched. Locations in five states were used in the film caravan's 2,000 mile trek.

In the early 1980s, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, which housed the 65mm nitrate camera negative for The Big Trail, wanted to preserve the film but found that the negative was too shrunken and fragile to be copied and that no film lab would touch it. They went to Karl Malkames, an accomplished cinematographer and a leading specialist and pioneer in film reproduction, restoration, and preservation. Malkames was known to be a “problem solver” when it came to restoring early odd-gauge format films. He immediately set about designing and building a special printer to handle the careful frame-by-frame reproduction of the negative to a 35mm anamorphic (CinemaScope) fine grain master. The printer copied at a speed of one frame a second. This was a painstaking year-long undertaking that Malkames oversaw from start to finish. It is solely because of him that this film survives in this version.

Amazingly enough, the 70mm version was seen on cable television at a time when only the 35mm version had been released to VHS and DVD. A two-disc DVD was released in the US on May 13, 2008, containing both versions.

Another widescreen western was also produced the same year, Billy the Kid, starring John Mack Brown as Billy the Kid and Wallace Beery as Pat Garrett. No widescreen prints of Billy the Kid survive; only a standard-width version shot simultaneously remains.

Foreign language versions

A fairly common practice in the early sound era was to produce at least one foreign language version of a film for release in non-English speaking countries. There were at least four foreign language versions made of The Big Trail, using different casts and different character names:

  • French: La Piste des géants (1931), directed by Pierre Couderc, starring Gaston Glass (Pierre Calmine), Jeanne Helbling (Denise Vernon), Margot Rousseroy (Yvette), Raoul Paoli (Flack), Louis Mercier (Lopez). La Piste des géants at the Internet Movie Database
  • German: Die Große Fahrt (1931), directed by Lewis Seiler and Raoul Walsh, starring Theo Shall (Bill Coleman), Marion Lessing (Ruth Winter), Ullrich Haupt (Thorpe), Arnold Korff (Peter), Anders Van Haden (Bull Flack), Peter Erkelenz (Fichte), Paul Panzer (Lopez). Die Große Fahrt at the Internet Movie Database
  • Italian: Il grande sentiero (1931), starring Franco Corsaro and Luisa Caselotti.[1]
  • Spanish: La Gran jornada (1931), directed by David Howard, Samuel Schneider, and Raoul Walsh, starring Jorge Lewis (Raul Coleman), Carmen Guerrero (Isabel Prados), Roberto Guzmán (Tomas), Martin Garralaga (Martin), Al Ernest Garcia (Flack), Tito Davison (Daniel), Carlos Villarías[2] (Orena), Charles Stevens[3] (Lopez). La Gran jornada at the Internet Movie Database

See also

References

  1. ^ Luisa Caselotti's younger sister, Adriana Caselotti, was the voice of Snow White in Walt Disney's animated classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).
  2. ^ Villarías is best known for playing the title character in the Spanish language version of Dracula (1931).
  3. ^ Stevens plays the same part in both the English and Spanish versions of The Big Trail.

Further reading

  • Elyes, Allen. John Wayne. South Brunswick, N.J.: A.S. Barnes and Co., 1979. ISBN 0498024873.

External links

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