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The Oregon Trail
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Under director's Ford Beebe and Cliff Smith, associate producer Henry MacRae, screenplay by George Plympton, Basil Dickey, Edmund Kelso and W.W.Read more ›
Don't try to watch more than one or two chapters at a time, because this serial bears the marks of the form. Serials were a unique format completely beholden to the circumstances under which they were viewed. There was no guarantee that viewers attended the theater the previous week, so every installment contains a certain amount of redundant footage. Each chapter has opening credits, scrolling text describing the story thus far and usually about a minute of footage from the previous chapter, including the cliffhanger. There are no obvious cheats, though there is often an added shot or two (such as Johnny jumping clear of a crashing wagon) that shows how the cliffhanger was resolved. I have to knock off one star because of the disappointing ending and the fact that 15 chapters is simply to much for the story.
Johnny Mack Brown has a very physical method of fisticuffs that is a nice contrast to his easy-going acting style. He's not the most charismatic cinema cowboy, but he's charming enough to anchor the creaky cast. The strongest supporting character is Fuzzy Knight, who made dozens of films and serials with Brown. His performance, while amusing, never degenerates to the point of simple comic relief. You'll probably get a laugh out of how coyly the romantic elements are handled, chaste even by 1939 standards. This serial is very similar to Flaming Frontiers, which is also available on DVD and is just as much fun.
Famous scout Jeff Scott (Johnny Mack Brown) and his sidekick Deadwood (Fuzzy Knight) are undercover agents for the Government, trying to determine who is behind attacks on settlers bound for Oregon. They join up with a wagon train headed by John Mason (Edward LeSaint) whose wagon boss, Bull Bragg (Jack C. Smith) is an underling of the main culprit, Sam Morgan (James Blaine). Morgan wants to keep settlers out of his territory so they don't disrupt his stranglehold on fur trade with the Indians. Bragg is quickly exposed, but isn't captured, and with Morgan's other main henchman, Breed (Charles Stevens) continues to disrupt Mason's efforts to get his wagons through to Paradise Valley.
This is a typical Universal western serial, which means lots of repetition, silent-era stock-footage Indians, cattle stampedes, and brush fires. There is a female, Mason's daughter Margaret (Louise Stanley) and a kid, Jimmie Clark (Bill Cody Jr.) that occasionally need rescue. The repetitive plot seems to have been desirable when these serials were first released; the kids in the audience were there for their weekly "fix" of Cowboys & Indians, and the associated features tended to do the same thing. Watched today for the "full story" it seems awfully slow-moving, but two things help redeem the serial: Fuzzy Knight's role as a useful comic-relief character, and that the hero can't just shoot Bull Bragg, who must be kept alive to expose the Big Boss. It's also interesting to have Roy Barcroft as Colonel Custer, occasionally coming to the rescue of the good guys. Barcroft's splendid delivery of lines is clearly evident here.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Hey...what can I say? It's Johnny Mack Brown and the last of his Universal cliffhangers. Sure, it's loaded with Universal's dependency on old stock footage. Read morePublished on January 17, 2014 by Michael Royer
Plan a date night for this movie, but start it early like 1 p.m. and lasting until 8 p.m. and action packed. Read morePublished on October 6, 2013 by Randall Guinn