This brilliant movie illustrates eminently a brutal chapter in Western socio-economic history: the creation of the iron horse, the transcontinental railroad.
One of America’s greatest novelists called it ‘The Octopus’. It strangled without mercy the farmers with its multiple sucker-bearing arms. In Frank Norris’ novel, the strangulation happened through highly exaggerated prices for the transportation of farm products; in other words, an extortion by a monopoly. In this movie, the railroad owners try to force the farmers to sell their land for a pittance by lying (‘the government will give you nothing’) or by naked violence. They need new land for extensions of their railroad grid.
One of the families which resist the violent extortion is the James household (Frank, Jesse and their mother). When their house is destroyed by arson and their mother is killed, the brothers take the law in their own hands and seek revenge by robbing the railroad clients, the passengers.
This movie shows a lawless and corrupt country, where the power lies in the hands of the moneymen, who have friends in high places and who control the decision makers (the lawmakers and the judges).
On the other hand, at the end of the 19th century, the press (the media), here the ‘Liberty Weekly Gazette’, was still independent, and supported the farmers against blatant arbitrariness.
This is a superb movie, not only for its perfect depiction of a not so distant past, but also, for its still highly relevant themes, like socio-economic power, corrupt politics and freedom (of speech).
Excellent direction by Henry King with an outstanding cast (T. Power, H. Fonda, R. Scott).
A must see.