The silent film THE IRON HORSE (1924), directed by John Ford, is the latest film seen from my list of 10 Classics to see in 2013.
I was drawn to THE IRON HORSE as several Ford films are among my all-time favorite movies, so I wanted to see what I believe is considered to be his most significant silent film. I've become quite a fan of George O'Brien over the past year so it was an added plus that he's the film's leading man.
The movie is about the building of the transcontinental railroad, as seen through the eyes of young Dave Brandon (O'Brien). As a child (played by Winston Miller) Dave survives the killing of his father (James Gordon), then grows up to help build the railroad, which must overcome not just geographic obstacles but Indian attacks and many other problems.
I found the film sporadically interesting, particularly when it came to well-done big set pieces such as a man scaling a pole to telegraph word of an Indian attack. That said, the film was very long drawn out; I watched the "international version" which was two hours and 13 minutes. I was surprised that George O'Brien doesn't even appear until over 45 minutes into the movie!
I admired what Ford and cinematographer George Schneiderman attempted in terms of the action sequences, and I also found the location shooting very effective. I'm glad I saw the film from an historical perspective, but I can't say I found it especially compelling in terms of the story. I love American history and Westerns, but the plot of THE IRON HORSE meanders far too much, over a period of many years. In particular, there are numerous extra bits of "color" which have nothing much to do with the story; these scenes simply made the movie longer.
I did enjoy the chance to see a film with the young, handsome George O'Brien, who was about 24 when this was filmed. SUNRISE (1927) and NOAH'S ARK (1928) were still ahead of him.
Madge Bellamy plays O'Brien's sweetheart, with Peggy Cartwright playing her as a girl. The cast also includes Charles Edward Bull, J. Farrell MacDonald, Will Walling, and Cyril Chadwick. Jean Arthur and George Brent are both said to be among the large cast, playing a reporter and a worker, respectively.
THE IRON HORSE is available on DVD as part of the Ford at Fox Collection or as a single title release. It can be rented from ClassicFlix.
It also had multiple releases on VHS.