John Ford directs Ben Johnson, Joanne Dru and Ward Bond in this western where a hodgepodge of horse traders, Mormons, whores and thieves journey across the wilds together in search of a new life.
Gentle and poetic, this favours community over violence. When the bad guys force themselves into the burgeoning coterie they don’t just feel like a ticking time bomb to the peaceful cohesion of the travellers but a hangover from the days of Civil War and land taking. Their way of the gun needs to be rejected as an ill of the past. To while the time away until they show their true colours and strike, we have hoedowns and courting. Johnson’s flirtation with Dru is done in fine romantic shorthand. The scene where she has a memorable adverse reaction to his proposal of settling down is a stunning bit of cinema, should really be consider an iconic moment of the genre. But Wagon Master was only recently reassessed as a classic, seen at the time of release as Ford at his most uncommercial.
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