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A Heady scent of the early cinema.,
This review is from: The Iron Horse: UK Edition [DVD] (DVD)
"The Iron Horse" is a rare opportunity to see a silent Western in its original form unless you count Buster Keatons wonderful comedy "The General"(26). The background music by the City of Prague Philharmonic orchestra adds to the period feel. For fans of the legendary film director John Ford this is a must have. When this film was made in 1924 he was already a veteran of 50 films. His distinguished career finally ending with "Three Women" in 1965. In this film we see glimpses of the perfection that Ford was heading towards with such classics as "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon"(49) and perhaps his masterwork "The Searchers"(56).
The film is a very conventional tale set around the epoch changing event of the building of the first transcontinental railroad, first completed in 1869. The story involves double crossing, vengeance and of course romance. Historical characters like Abraham Lincoln, Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok are portrayed alongside fictional ones. The building is constantly beset by problems including hostile Indians. The male lead is taken by the then unknown George O'Brien who plays Davy Brandon. The love interest is provided by Madge Bellamy who was better known.
The film was made largely on location near Reno, Nevada and was often made in freezing temperatures, just to add authenticity. Hundreds of extras were used including Chinese and Irish labourers and Paiute Indians. Ford went to immense trouble to faithfully depict the historic moment when the two rails were joined at Promontory Point in Utah. This scene is almost a duplication of Andrew Russell's original historic photograph.
The film was financed by the Fox Company in response to Paramounts successful Western "The Covered Wagon"(23). They poured a large amount of money into the project. One figure quoted was 450,000 dollars which was an awful lot of money then. But they did not have to worry as it grossed 2 million. Ford tried to repeat the success with "Three Bad Men"(26) but it flopped badly. He did not return to the Western until his triumphant 1939 classic "Stagecoach", which propelled its star John Wayne who had been working in B pictures to mega stardom.
I sat down to watch "The Iron Horse" purely out of curiosity and with low expectations. But I was pleasantly surprised. It holds up very well and has given me a taste of what those early cinemagoers must have experienced. That early joy of the cinema is impossible to reproduce in our modern world, but with this film we get the exciting scent of it blown down through times winds. If you have a passion for film history, John Ford or just a rollicking good film then you will enjoy this. Highly recommended.