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Author Topic: Wagon Master (1950)  (Read 9663 times)
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« Reply #30 on: January 02, 2011, 07:00:46 AM »

Fairly entertaining but short on action. But the f*cking singing! Give me a break... The gals are pretty and Ben Johnson is a pretty good substitute for the Duke.

7/10

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« Reply #31 on: February 21, 2011, 09:33:00 PM »

You guys are dummies.

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Today's entry is Wagon Master (1950), one of the director's greatest yet most overlooked Westerns.

Travis (Ben Johnson) and Sandy (Harry Carey Jr.) are two horse traders who agree to help Mormon Elder Wiggs (Ward Bond) lead his flock to California. The arduous journey across the Arizona desert has a number of complications: a trio of "showfolk" (Joanne Dru, Alan Mowbray, Ruth Clifford) joins the team, and a band of Navajo Indians eyes the Mormons wearily. Worst of all, however, is the arrival of Shiloh Clegg (Charles Kemper) and his gang of outlaws, who join the wagon train to evade a sheriff's posse.

Aside from Stagecoach, Wagon Master might be the purest expression of Ford's thematic preoccupations. The wagon train is the perfect metaphor for the American Dream circa 1850, with the outcast Mormons seeking a better life out west. Travis, Sandy and the "showfolk" aren't especially popular either, and end up welcomed into the fold. Ford's emphasis on ritual serves this film perfectly, with the inevitable square dances and singing scenes forging a strong sense of community. Ford treats the Navajos fairly but notes the innate mistrust between the races in a telling scene. The inevitable showdown with the Cleggs is almost an afterthought, a conventional coda to a unique, richly poetic work.

Ford, as usual, delivers a master class in directing. The plot doesn't really start for half-an-hour, but the early scenes are just beautiful to watch, with gorgeous scenery, beautiful shots of the wagon train on the move and pleasant characters making it an enjoyable ride. The action scenes are relatively brief and organic to the story: a key bit of violence towards the end is really shocking. Some viewers might be turned off by the Sons of the Pioneers's corny song score but it fits the action perfectly.

Ben Johnson shines in a rare lead performance. The gruff yet amiable Johnson drifted into acting via work as a rodeo cowboy and stuntman, and he gets no end of opportunities to show off his horsemanship. Besides, he's a pretty good actor too. Harry Carey Jr., usually a stiff and uninteresting screen presence, gives easily his best performance. Ward Bond gets a wonderfully layered character, a relatively new convert still struggling to control his "sinful" ways. Charles Kemper (Intruder in the Dust) plays a notably hateful, whip-wielding villain a la Walter Brennan and Lee Marvin in other Ford flicks, with James Arness (Them!) and Hank Worden (The Searchers) among his henchmen. Jane Darwell (The Grapes of Wrath) has an amusing bit as well.

Wagon Master is one of John Ford's best Westerns. Like all of the director's best work, it's a simple story beautifully told, and for Western fans like me it's a real treasure.  9/10

http://nothingiswrittenfilm.blogspot.com/2011/02/wagon-master.html

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« Reply #32 on: February 25, 2012, 07:20:47 PM »

So I just saw Wagon Master (1950) for the first time; put it at the top of my Netflix queue cuz I am just about out of ideas for good Westerns to see and I saw some people here liked it. Well, I was extremely disappointed. this film gets no more than a generous 5/10.


This film has Ford's usual stock of (often annoying) actors, who range from very annoying to useless. Usually, with great leads like John Wayne or Henry Fonda, the annoying actors don't have as much of an opportunity to annoy you as much (I like those last ten words even though they make little sense  Wink). I've never thought Ward Bond is anything more than a barely passable supporting actor. Charles Kemper is not very good as the lead bad guy, and Hank Worden makes you wanna tear your eyes (and ears) out.
I've always liked Ben Johnson, and he is the one bright spot here. The other lead, Harry Carey, Jr., is decent (which is more than you can say for most of the others).

The story is not very interesting, and it is full of Fordisms, and here is my real problem with this movie: I am okay with the Fordisms when they are a scene, or a part, or a side-story, to the main story. But this entire movie is one big Fordism. In other words, there is much discussion about eg. the July 4th Dance in My Darling Clementine,  how Ford was full of optimism and admiration for those who made the trek westward to make this country from sea to shining sea, etc. But in this movie, we don't have a story which includes a July 4th Dance; rather, this entire movie is one big July 4th Dance I didn't mind the actual square dances; they're fine. Just as I had no problem with eg. the dance in My Darling Clementine, or the dances or songs in Fort Apache. But in this movie, that is what it is ALL ABOUT. Those Sons of the Pioneers songs are incredibly annoying; while you often get a song like that in the beginning of an AW, in this movie, we hear 'em constantly. I forwarded the dvd every time they started.
And the "comedy" is just terrible -- unless you think Ward Bond frequently swearing and Hank Worden as a villain with an IQ of 70 are funny.

These "Fordisms" -- hopes and dreams and optimism about the West and songs and dances  -- are okay when sprinkled a little into an otherwise compelling story with John Wayne or Henry Fonda. But you'll only enjoy this movie if you want 90 minutes of that.
 There is a reason those little things you put on ice cream are called "sprinkles." They are not meant to be eaten by the handful. Unless you are 5 years old. Or if you love Ford because of the Fordisms.


p.s. I checked out the dvd commentary for a few minutes, and it's an interesting one: It's by Peter Bogdanovich and Harry Carey, Jr.


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« Reply #33 on: February 25, 2012, 07:39:06 PM »

I'll reiterate my previous statement.

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« Reply #34 on: April 25, 2014, 03:22:07 PM »

saw the movie a little while ago for the second time (TCM). I actually enjoyed it more this time, but no way is this near the top of Ford's Westerns. I pretty much agree with just about all the criticisms I made in my previous post, but for some reason this time around those problems didn't get in the way of my enjoyment of the movie as much. Probably cuz I was expecting it this time around.

The endless Sons of the Pioneers songs are annoying. There are a bunch of solid John Ford stock characters all good performances besides the always-annoying hank Worden but not the same without a powerful John Wayne or Henry Fonda or Richard Widmark in the lead. The endless jokes about Ward Bond cussing I mean, every single time he opens his mouth, the same joke, where cusses and the other Brother tells him to watch his mouth; how the hell can that be funny after the 10th or 50th time? Hank Worden never should have been allowed to appear on a movie screen in his life - does anyone really find his retard shtick funny?

The film is pretty to look at, can be enjoyed despite the many annoyances, but from all the Westerns John Ford made beginning with Stagecoach, Wagon Master is the absolute worst (though I haven't seen Two Rode Together).

Lately, it's been happening a lot that after watching a movie once and finding annoying crap, I'll watch it again a while later and liking the movie a lot better. I think it's because I am already expecting the crap going in - annoying shit is always less annoying when you're expecting it.

Anyway, after seeing it I found myself saying that  this movie's rating should go up to 7.5/10  Shocked
(Now, I KNOW what will happen: in a little while, I'll look back and remember all the crap in the movie and say, "How did I ever rate it that highly? and be tempted to edit the post and lower the rating! But no - I've told myself that once I rate a movie after I've seen it, I can never go back later and change it - cuz the best time for rating is when you've just seen it and know how much you enjoyed it - emotionally - rather than thinking about it a lot as time goes by and simply remembering lotsa crap and saying - logically - that it shouldn't rate that high. Also, when a movie has so much crap, sometimes I feel like "punishing" it with a low rating, I just don't wanna give a good rating to a movie with all those awful jokes.) But somehow, when I last saw it, I said it deserves a 7.5/10.
This is why I HATE ratings   Wink

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