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Wagon Master

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Product Details

  • Actors: Ben Johnson, Joanne Dru, Harry Carey
  • Directors: John Ford
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, NTSC, Full Screen, Subtitled
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 1.0), Spanish (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: September 15, 2009
  • Run Time: 90 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,604 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Wagon Master" on IMDb

Special Features

Commentary by Harry Carey Jr. and Peter Bogdanovich with John Ford

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Wagon Master (DVD)


How is it that John Ford's greatest film remains largely unknown? All right, let's not kick sand on The Searchers, or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, or Ford's many other masterworks. But the director himself numbered Wagon Master among his personal favorites, and it's an utterly unique and original film no one else could have made.

This crusty, eccentric production, slipped in between installments of Ford's Cavalry trilogy, doesn't really star anybody. Ward Bond plays a Mormon elder, a reformed sinner still given to "the words of wrath" who asks a slightly larcenous young horse trader to lead a wagon train through the desert to a valley "the Lord has reserved" for them. The newly anointed wagon master is played by Ben Johnson, an amazing horseman Ford had been bringing along in character roles; at this point Johnson was still getting used to delivering lines, though that's part of his charm and serves his character beautifully.

A transcendent allegory of the opening of the frontier, Wagon Master follows no conventional, linear itinerary. The Lord moves in mysterious ways and so does the movie, which begins before it begins (that is, before the opening credits) and ends a few luminous seconds after THE END has come and gone. Storytelling takes a backseat to poetry, with long passages consecrated to savoring faces, landscapes, and raw sunlight. Some of these passages are supported by songs, and sometimes music rises faintly like an auditory mirage borne in from a great distance. The musicality extends to communal dancing, and to the demonic jingling of spurs that signals the appearances of "Uncle" Shiloh Cleggs (Charles Kemper), patriarch of an inbred outlaw clan whose dog-legged journey eventually intersects the wagon train's.

In keeping with Ford's vision of civilization and its discontents, Wagon Master is populated mostly by pariahs. Besides the deservedly outcast Cleggses, there are the Mormons, the vagabond horse traders played by Johnson and Harry Carey Jr., a medicine-show troupe, and the first people on the land, the Navajo. As individuals and groups drift and coalesce, then separate and coalesce again in fresh configurations, a new nation gets its footing while marching west--"out across the backlands, where the dust has lain so long...." This is the heart's-core of American cinema. --Richard T. Jameson

Customer Reviews

This is one of the best westerns I've ever seen -- !!
Wagon Master is also a very personal film and Ford re-uses quite a few elements of his previous work.
Fort Knox
Also besides the great cinematography the musical numbers were numerous and well done.
Dan O. Kleinman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Lulamae on February 3, 2004
Format: VHS Tape
Wagonmaster is quietly poetic and optimistic. I found it quite unlike other Ford westerns I have seen, possibly because it hasn't got Dook or Hank in the way, so the ensemble cast comes into its own. Beautiful b/w cinematography with some breathtaking shots of the wagon train (shadows and dust) desperately looking for the next watering hole, but that is expected from John Ford. The Chuckawalla Swing dance is wonderfully filmed as well. Good use of the Sons of the Pioneers music in this movie, it is much more fitting than in Rio Grande. Ben Johnson is great in this movie, the role really suits him. Ward Bond and Harry Carey Jnr are very good and the Cleggs are as creepy as you could want. It is difficult to find on video, I had to find a second hand vhs version, but it is more than worth it. With My Darling Clementine, my favourite Ford western.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By mr david cairns on May 23, 2007
A simple little story of a group of Mormons,led by Ward Bond,enlisting the help of two horse traders,Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jnr,to get them to their Promised Land.

Along the way they bump into,a love interest,Joanne Dru,and as evil a bunch of Bad Guys, The Cleggs,including a young James Arness and one of the best western character actors ever, Hank Worden;; as your ever likely to see.

Directed by the genius that was John Ford,music by Stan Jones and the Sons of the Pioneers,set in the fabulous Arizona,Monument Valley landscape and scenery,and what have you got?

;;;;;;;;A CLASSIC WESTERN;;;;;;;;

Why is this classic not been given the;;Special Edition;;treatment on DVD?

Ben Johnson,s only lead role,Harry Carey has just turned 86 years of age,Ward Bond,Hank Worden and a gallery of great western character actors and actresses.Need i say more?

Davy,Westernnut from Scotland.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Mike on July 3, 2009
Format: DVD
Wagon Master is a wonderful film by John Ford. I've been waiting for it to come out on DVD for years. It probably hasn't been available on DVD until now because it didn't star John Wayne. Ben Johnson is the lead. Johnson appeared in many Ford films, but it was rare for him to be the star. Ward Bond, another regular for Ford films, is a Mormon elder who is taking a group of families west across Utah. James Arness is listed as one of the leads in the film. His screen time is limited, but it is a memorable performance. If you mainly know Arness from his role as Marshal Dillon in Gunsmoke, you will be very surprised with his character in Wagon Train. Wagon Train is an excellent western and shows why Ben Johnson was a terrific actor and a real cowboy.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By joe storey on August 26, 2005
Format: VHS Tape
Perhaps because it has no big-name stars, this film is sadly underrated. But it is said to have been Ford's personal favorite among all his many films, and I don't think it's hard to see why. Even though it's supposedly about Mormons heading west, really it's a distillation of Ford's favorite themes: the archetypal confrontation of good and evil and the "rediscovery of Eden" in the American West (or Ireland...). The whole thing has the authentic simplicity of folk poetry, if you will, with wonderful songs by the Sons of the Pioneers and Ford's trademark great landscape shots. Silence is used very effectively when the camera registers groups of expectant faces before a confrontation (and Ford of course learned his trade during the silent era). It's funny, it creates effective dramatic friction between the various little bands of people roving around the desert (Mormons, horse dealers, "entertainers," outlaws, Indians), and Ben Johnson is just wonderfully understated as the wagonmaster. Who needs big stars with a performance like this? (Aside: Johnson was a rodeo star whom Ford recruited for films; he didn't make many films after this, but be sure to see him twenty years later turning in an equally fine and low-key performance in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show.) It's not an epic film like The Searchers, but I would place it among Ford's five best (with My Darling Clementine, Quiet Man, Searchers, and Liberty Valance).
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Plotkin on August 8, 2009
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Nothing happens and everything happens in this tiny Western by John Ford; a group of Mormons, persecuted hither and yon, have lit out west to find the promised land; a couple of rootless cowboys join them as trail bosses. On their pilgrimage through the desert, they bond with kindred outcasts, such as friendly Indians and some similarly persecuted (loose morals, you know) theater folk, with the serpent in the garden finally rearing its head when they are hijacked by one of Ford's villainous all-male families, the Cleggs, fugitives from a bloody train robbery.

This is such a great film, Ford always cited it as his favorite, along with The Sun Shines Bright (Ford of course often denied having made his own films, or claimed he couldn't remember them when interviewers asked him about them, so such self-reference was rare coming from the cantankerous old coot). Made in conditions of complete independence, with no stars, one has the sense that here is the Fordian universe at its purest: a minimal narrative, with next-to-no action, just a collection of privileged moments among his beloved community of outcasts (here Mormons, uncorrupted by civilization because the pilgrims have yet to cease their desert wanderings, the ideal is still real), and stunningly gorgeous black and white studies of the human figure almost, but not quite, lost in the splendors of the landscape of Monument Valley. Ex-rodeo star Ben Johnson brings a tremendous amount of authenticity to his cowboy hero, the Ford stock company is in full effect, and Ford's hommages to silent cinema are overt -- such as the Clegg patriarch firing his gun at the audience recalls The Great Train Robbery (as does the whole opening sequence), the casting of Harry Carey Jr as the second lead, whose dad was Ford's silent era star.
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