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The Iron Horse [Masters of Cinema] [DVD] 
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The 1924 blockbuster that launched John Ford into Hollywood's emerging A-list of directors, The Iron Horse is an epic mythification of the American railroad's birth: a rambunctious blend of historical drama and Western actioner, revenge story and saloon comedy, noble biopic and all-bets-off tall tale. Neighbour to the pre-presidential Abe Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, young Davy Brandon accompanies his father westward to realise the elder's dream of a rail line bridging the ends of the continent. Years after Brandon Sr.'s murder and scalping by a two-fingered Cheyenne half-breed, the adult David (played by George O'Brien, three years before his lead role in Sunrise, here in the first of ten films he made with Ford) joins in the effort now underway to lay track and accommodate "the iron horse". Once more stir the blood and butterflies of Davy's past as Ford guides his characters' fates towards final convergence, like the merging of the tracks from east and west. With its expressive compositional prowess, incredible stunt work, and generous humour, The Iron Horse anticipates the bounteous universe that Ford would go on to calibrate perfectly in his greatest works. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present The Iron Horse in its US, full-length version for the first time on DVD in the UK. The first smash hit in the career of one of Hollywood's greatest and most enduringly popular directors: John Ford (The Searchers, Stagecoach, The Quiet Man, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Fort Apache, etc.), The Iron Horse was one of the great blockbusters of Hollywood's silent era, with over 6000 extras at work on the film, it is the grandfather of all Westerns. The Iron Horse is released in a 2-disc DVD set on 26 September 2011. SPECIAL TWO-DISC DVD EDITION FEATURING: *Original, US, 150-minute version of the film, accompanied by a 2007 score by Christopher Caliendo * Shorter, UK, 133-minute version of the film (which includes alternate takes), accompanied by an adaptation of the Caliendo score * Audio commentary for the UK version of the film by scholar Robert Birchard New and exclusive 30-minute video essay by Tag Gallagher, author of John Ford: The Man and His Films * A lengthy illustrated booklet containing vintage press and publicity material, and more!
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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.
The print isn't perfect but it's a far sight better than the old VHS version from the Killiam Collection. The picture quality is good, proper color tints have been added, and there is a quality film score composed by John Lanchbery. The movie is not without its share of flaws including excessive length (134 minutes), an uneven balance between comedy and drama, and a mixed bag of performances with Madge Bellamy being the weakest. George O'Brien as the hero and Fred Kohler as the principal villian still hold up well today and while the storyline is overly familiar to us now, it features many things that would later become cliches'. Incidentally Kohler really had only three fingers on the one hand having lost the others in a mining accident before he became an actor. If you are at all interested in silent films or Westerns or director John Ford then THE IRON HORSE is a must have.
As is often the case with Big Movies of the period, 'The Iron Horse' suffers from an overload of narrative detail, and not sufficient care is taken to secure the sweep of the vision, the pacing of the action. So there is quite a bit of slapstick and a bit too much overwrought melodrama.
Having said that, 'Iron Horse' has ample glories. The tinted images, wonderfully lucid and finely grained in this exemplary edition of the movie from British Film Institue. The newly composed score is quite satisfactory.
Print quality is as good as can be expected from a 1924 film, but a lot better than any other version I've seen.
The factual errors contained therein (stating that the original engines were used long after they'd seemingly been scrapped) just show that Hollywood hype was as present and correct back then as it is now, but don't let that detract from a fine film, done in an almost documentary style.
Excellent work from Eureka once again, a well packaged set with an informative booklet containing lots of pictures and features on the film. A PDF of the script is also contained on one of the discs. The only fault lies in the documentary, sorry, I mean the video essay, that we get, rather stilted in its delivery, and not as informative as it could be. Doesn't detract from the film in any way though.
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OF THE SILNT MOVIE YOU WLL LOVE THIS,WOTH EVERY PENNY.