Saturday, February 24, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Covered Wagon (1923) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The silent epic THE COVERED WAGON (1923) was released this week on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.

THE COVERED WAGON is an engrossing film, with impressive location filming in several states, including Utah, Nevada, and California.  The movie was adapted by Jack Cunningham from a novel by Emerson Hough, directed by James Cruze and filmed by Karl Brown. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray print looks terrific, especially when one considers this movie is 95 years old.

THE COVERED WAGON tells the story of two wagon train caravans journeying from Kansas City to the "promised land" of Oregon. Molly (Lois Wilson) is ostensibly engaged to one caravan leader, Sam (Alan Hale Sr.), but she's been putting off marrying him and finds herself attracted to Will (J. Warren Kerrigan of CAPTAIN BLOOD), leader of the second "Liberty" caravan.

Will has a mysterious past -- some say he was a cattle thief -- but it's Sam who's actually bad news, as is revealed during the long journey. Over many months the travelers face challenges from fording the Platte River to battling snow and Indians.

It's a standard storyline but well told, holding the attention for the film's 98 minutes. The cast also includes Ernest Torrence and Tully Marshall, and the acting is fine, though no one really stands out.

What's really impressive are the visuals; in many scenes the wagon train stretches far, far into the distance, an incredibly stirring sight, especially knowing that it's all "real," no CGI. (The filmmakers were able to round up a number of covered wagons which had actually once made the journey west, which at that time was only a handful of decades in the past.) The river fording sequence and filming during a snowfall add to the realism. This film was a huge project, with hundreds of extras, not to mention livestock, filmed in locations still untouched by the 20th Century.

It's all the more interesting when one realizes that this film was one of the first of its kind, paving the way for later Western epics such as John Ford's THE IRON HORSE (1924) and Raoul Walsh's THE BIG TRAIL (1930).

The movie has a Wurlitzer organ score by Gaylord Carter.

The commentary track is by Toby Roan, a friend of this blog who blogs himself at 50 Westerns From the 50s. I listened to it from start to finish and found it quite informative, as is always the case with Toby's commentaries. (I enjoyed hearing that some of the final shooting on the film took place near Bishop, California, an area I know well.) He'll be providing more Kino Lorber commentary tracks in the next few weeks!

The case contains an attractive booklet with a good essay by Matt Hauske which helps explain THE COVERED WAGON's place in film history. The Blu-ray case contains reversible cover art; I liked the "alternate" option so well that I chose to switch mine over to the other side. For good measure the Blu-ray disc also has a short starring Shirley Temple, THE PIE-COVERED WAGON (1932).

Kino Lorber's THE COVERED WAGON is a recommended release, especially for those who love Westerns and/or silent films.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


OpenID Walter Severs said...

Laura, I enjoyed your article on THE COVERED WAGON. As usual you give the reader a well informed review to allow us to make our own informed decisions. This early Western spectacle is well worth revisiting. This movie was a monumental viewing experience for movie goers in 1923. It was quite a spectacle and the story behind the making of this movie is amazing. The viewing of this movie makes me think about what my own ancestors went through on their treks West.

I saw this movie for the first time during the early 1970’s on Channel 10 WKNO-TV, a local PBS station. This station would show silent movies as well as foreign. I was really impressed by the visuals of THE COVERED WAGON. In 1995 I purchased a VHS copy, which I
still have.

Karl Brown and his camera crew should get all the credit they deserve. Also, everyone else that was responsible for the massive undertaking of making this movie possible.

5:05 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you, Walter, I'm glad you enjoyed my review! I enjoyed hearing about your early experiences seeing the film, especially as it was a first-time watch for me. What a huge production this was! It's interesting to imagine how impressive it must have been for viewing audiences nearly a century's still a real "wow" today!

Best wishes,

8:53 AM  

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