Early John Wayne pictures can be a little indistinguishable from each other but Raoul Walsh’s The Big Trail is another story.

His epic presentation of the journey out west may not have the sharpest screenplay but it is necessary viewing for any Western fan or cinephile for its scale alone. Walsh stages some truly magnificent scenes and set pieces from the initial pioneer camp to the lowering of wagons/animals down cliff sides to river crossings and an exhilarating sequence where the wagon train gets stuck in the mud during a storm. In an age where everything is computer generated, watching these “real” moments of action is astounding.

The film also establishes Wayne as a star. Though he was yet to be molded by Ford, his natural charisma and ability to carry a picture from beginning to end is on full display. Surrounded by other performances who often overact their parts, Wayne already comes off as someone who innately understood film acting.

Watched on DVD.