The Big Trail (1930)

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    Plot Summary
    Breck leads a wagon train of pioneers through Indian attack, storms, deserts,
    swollen rivers, down cliffs and so on while looking for the murder of a trapper
    and falling in love with Ruth.

    Full Cast
    John Wayne .... Breck Coleman
    Marguerite Churchill .... Ruth Cameron
    El Brendel .... Gussie
    Tully Marshall .... Zeke
    Tyrone Power Sr. .... Red Flack, wagon boss (as Tyrone Power)
    David Rollins .... Dave 'Davey' Cameron
    Frederick Burton .... Pa Bascom
    Ian Keith .... Bill Thorpe
    Charles Stevens .... Lopez
    Louise Carver .... Gussie's mother-in-law
    rest of cast listed alphabetically:
    Chief John Big Tree .... Indian (uncredited)
    Ward Bond .... Sid Bascom (uncredited)
    Nino Cochise .... Indian (uncredited)
    Iron Eyes Cody .... Indian (uncredited)
    Don Coleman .... Wrangler (uncredited)
    Emslie Emerson .... Sairey (uncredited)
    Alphonse Ethier .... Marshal (uncredited)
    Dannie Mac Grant .... (uncredited)
    Marcia Harris .... Mrs. Riggs (uncredited)
    Marilyn Harris .... Pioneer girl (uncredited)
    DeWitt Jennings .... Boat Captain Hollister (uncredited)
    Marjorie Leet .... Mildred Riggs (uncredited)
    Marion Lessing .... (uncredited)
    William V. Mong .... Wellmore, trading post owner (uncredited)
    Pete Morrison .... Wrangler (uncredited)
    Dodo Newton .... Abigail Vance (uncredited)
    Jack Padjan .... Pioneer (uncredited)
    Helen Parrish .... Honey Girl Cameron (uncredited)
    Robert Parrish .... Pioneer boy (uncredited)
    Jack Peabody .... Bill Gillis (uncredited)
    Russ Powell .... Windy Bill (uncredited)
    Frank Rainboth .... Ohio man (uncredited)
    Apache Bill Russell .... (uncredited)
    Andy Shuford .... Bit part (uncredited)
    Gertrude Van Lent .... Sister from Missouri (uncredited)
    Lucille Van Lent .... Sister from Missouri (uncredited)

    Writing Credits
    Hal G. Evarts (story)
    Raoul Walsh (story contributor) uncredited
    Marie Boyle (screenplay) (dialogue) uncredited &
    Jack Peabody (screenplay) (dialogue) uncredited
    Florence Postal (screenplay) (dialogue) uncredited

    Original Music
    R.H. Bassett (uncredited)
    Peter Brunelli (uncredited)
    Alfred Dalby (uncredited)
    Arthur Kay (uncredited)
    Jack Virgil (uncredited)

    Lucien N. Andriot (photographed by) (35mm version) (as Lucien Andriot)
    Arthur Edeson

    Steve Clemente ... stunts (uncredited)
    Iron Eyes Cody ... stunts (uncredited)
    Jack Padjan ... stunt coordinator (uncredited) Camera and Electrical Department

    Gary Cooper was originally offered the role of Breck Coleman and wanted it, but he was under contract to Paramount Pictures, which refused to loan him out. The role was eventually given to John Wayne.

    This was his only talking film of Tyrone Power Sr., father of Tyrone Power. He died in 1931.

    Incredibly, five different versions of this film were shot simultaneously. (1) a 70mm version in the Grandeur process for exhibition in the biggest movie palaces; (2) a standard 35mm version for general release; (3) a 35mm alternate French language version La piste des géants (1931)' (4) a 35 mm alternate Spanish language version La gran jornada (1931), and (5) a 35 mm alternate German language version Die große Fahrt (1931). The three alternate language versions were shot with (mostly) different casts.

    Reportedly this film debuted at a running time of 158 minutes. However, this is unconfirmed as of May 2008.

    This film was shot in both the wide screen format, synonymous with "Cinemescope", as well as the standard format. Special wide screens were needed. Most theaters featured only the standard version of the film. Moviegoers at that time, the 1930s, had difficulty paying higher ticket prices to accommodate the new process. This process was soon abandoned but reappeared in 1953 with The Robe (1953), produced in Cinemescope. Television had taken some revenue away from the movie industry and the economy had improved.

    John Wayne's first movie role. Raoul Walsh was having trouble casting the movie when he saw Wayne taking furniture off a truck. Wayne worked for the studio in the prop department.

    Marion Morrison was discovered working in the part department and was cast in this film. The producers didn't like his name. Raoul Walsh (the director, who discovered him) suggested Wayne as a last name. He had recently been reading about General Anthony Wayne (Mad Anthony Wayne). The studio added John and the rest was history.

    The story is set somewhere between 1837 and 1845. The first major wave of settlers arrived on the Oregon Trail in 1843.

    According to the Nov. 12, 1930 issue of the Idaho Falls Post, this movie was once set to be titled "The Oregon Trail". The change, as stated, was made in response to the requests from nearby residents of Jackson, WY, where the bulk of the movie was filmed.

    At the beginning of filming John Wayne became ill with dysentery and lost 20 lbs.

    In the last scene where Breck and Ruth are reunited,
    Breck comes up the trail and is seen by Ruth.
    A close up of Breck shows him carrying his rifle in his right hand.
    Breck starts to run to meet Ruth.
    The shot shifts to a distant shot as we watch Ruth and Breck running to each other.
    Breck's rifle is now slung over his shoulder.

    Factual errors
    (at around 10 mins) Breck Coleman leans his rifle against the water pump,
    then leaves it there and goes into the house. Not something a 'real' frontiersman would do.
    0 of 2 found this interesting | Share this

    Revealing mistakes
    After Thorpe is killed while trying to murder Breck Coleman (John Wayne),
    Flack (Tyrone Power Sr.) talks about dismissing Breck as a guide.

    While he does this, Ward Bond (standing to the right) is clearly mouthing Flack's lines.

    Memorable Quotes

    Filming Locations
    Buttercup Dunes, Imperial County, California, USA
    Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA
    Grand Teton Pass, Wyoming, USA
    Hurricane Bluffs, Zion National Park, Springdale, Utah, USA
    Imperial County, California, USA
    Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA
    Moise-National Buffalo Range, Montana, USA
    Moisie, Montana, USA
    Oregon, USA
    Sacramento River, California, USA
    Sacramento, California, USA
    Sequoia National Park - 47050 Generals Highway, Three Rivers, California, USA
    St. George, Utah, USA
    Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
    Yuma, Arizona, USA
    Zion National Park, Springdale, Utah, USA

    Best Wishes
    London- England

    Edited 17 times, last by ethanedwards ().

  • The Big Trail is a 1930 lavish early widescreen movie shot on location across
    the American West starring John Wayne in his first leading role and directed by Raoul Walsh.
    In 2006, the United States Library of Congress deemed this film "culturally,
    historically, or aesthetically significant",
    and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

    I enjoyed the film, and although it was a flop at the Box Office,
    it brought the name of John Wayne, to the big time screen.
    Raoul Walsh, giving the young John Ford prop man, a surprise leading role,
    changing Dukes name in the process!!

    It's amusing now, to see the big fella dashing and scampering
    around with a squeaky voice,
    and apart from the hammy acting, typical of the era,
    and Ward Bond, mouthing everyone elses words,
    it's a great film.

    User Review


    Big, gritty and ... wide screen in 1930?
    14 August 2001 | by Rodger Schultz (Severna Park, MD)

    John Wayne's first starring role just blew me away. Televised letterbox style on AMC, I had to check and make sure I had the right date. Sure enough, this 1930 film was made using a 55 mm wide-screen process. Aside from that, it features some of the grittiest, most realistic footage of the trek west I've seen. Wagons, men and animals are really lowered down a cliff face by rope. Trees are chopped by burly men -- and burly women -- so the train can move another 10 feet. The Indians are not the "pretty boy" city slickers who portrayed them later; they're the real deal. A river crossing in a driving rain storm is so realistic, it has to be real (In fact, I understand that director Raoul Walsh nearly lost the entire cast during this sequence). I could smell the wet canvas. Each day is an agony. The various sub-plots are forgettable but the film as a whole is not. I can't think of another title that can beat The Big Trail in evoking a sense of living history on the trail to Oregon. Bravo.


    Best Wishes
    London- England

    Edited 8 times, last by ethanedwards ().

  • Previous discussion:-
    The Big Trail

    Thought it would be a good idea to transfer all the previous comments, across to,
    this, new Forum.


    The Ringo Kid*
    post Dec 5 2005, 10:13 PM
    This sounds like a great idea.

    Though I have not watched The Big Trail in several years, I do remember liking it and thought it was great to see a really young Duke at the helm. :)


    post Dec 6 2005, 02:49 AM
    It has been along time for me as well since I have seen this movie. I must confess it is not one of my favorites. And to be honest it was not a well acted movie by Duke in my opinion. I realize that this was his first major starring role, and it shows, but he did learn allot from the filming of this movie and it shows througout the rest of his career. The one notable thing about the movie was some of the technical aspects, like being 1 of the 1st widescreen movies ever filmed and some of the stunts that were performed were quit outstanding for the era. Overall, I would give this movie 2.5 stars out of 5.*


    post Dec 6 2005, 07:46 PM
    Duke's acting is solid in the Movie. I found it well made and well acted over all. As to being as good as the IRON HORSE...I don't know about that. I don't think BIG TRAIL was any were as many powerful images as IRON HORSE has. The acting is pretty much on par but Walsh is no John Ford. :cowboy:*


    Hondo Duke Lane
    post Dec 7 2005, 03:05 AM
    Good Point, E.J.

    I do have that book and I read it January 1999. You can see that it's been almost 7 years. I guess I better get it out and read it again. I wrote in the book when I read it, so that's how I know when.

    Cheers B)


    post Dec 7 2005, 11:12 AM
    Hi all,
    The discussion of making The Big Trail sounds very interesting. For a pity I didn't read these books, but it is hard to belive that Duke was drank the most of time. It was not like him during the work. With what his illness was connected?


    kilo 6*
    post Dec 27 2005, 05:32 AM
    Hello All
    We went out of town for Christmas and I am behind on my reading , so forgive me for a late entry on The Big Trail. ( We don't do electric anything, much when on vacation ) I read that John Wayne impressed Raoul Walsh by working on a set all day and then helping his buddies break down and pack up then unload equipment. Duke was working on the production side most of the time and on this occasion after a long hot day of desert shooting ( working on the cast side of things) Duke watched several fellow production side, workers, who had been ( like him ) assigned as background performers/ extras, for the day, go home leaving the crew they regularly worked along side, shorthanded for cleanup. Duke stayed on, unpaid, to help his chums get the job done and worked hard. Walsh saw that the man had grit and loyalty and perhaps began to consider him in a new light, or from a different ( camera?) angle. Well it may be just a nice storey but I want to think it,s true and I wont buy a pickled egg for anyone in a tavern who says different. Murray ( thanks for the new thread EE it's good to return to the board and have this as a sort of Christmas gift waiting. As I said b 4 there must be something in the Torquay water, are you sure you are not part Scottish or Irish?
    Murray :newyear: :jump:

    Best Wishes
    London- England

    Edited once, last by ethanedwards ().

  • Watched the movie for the first time on DVD, and with the edited version which is all I have to the movie or be able to get at this time.

    With the exception of the diallage and technical aspects, this was a pretty good movie. The lines were terrible, and there was so much noise that you couldn't hear half the bad lines (which might be good). The story line was good, and if they had a screen writer, this movie might have been a great classic. I know that talkies were fairly new, but the noise was very distracting.

    I do recall at the beginning of the movie while Marguerite Churchill was having a scene with the steamboat captain the one of the main villains stole the scene by walking in front of the two and just standing. Walsh (the director) should have been shot for letting that happen. The scene was ruined.

    I have to say that most of the actors were not that good, and Duke showed a lot of inexperience in that movie as well.

    I saw more later.

    Cheers B)


    "When you come slam bang up against trouble, it never looks half as bad if you face up to it"

    - John Wayne quote

  • One cast member I noticed was Charles Stevens. Is he the same Charlie Stevens that appeared in many westerns as Indians, half breeds and other slimy type characters? If so, does anyone have any info about him? I read many years ago that he was supposed to be related to the famous Apache warrior, Geronimo. A grandson or something. So, if anyone could tell me, I'd appreciate it.

  • Just watched the big trail on dvd and I thought it was fantastic. It's hard to beleive that it was such a failure at the time that it set the duke's career back almost ten years.

    This movie is way better than the stuff that he did for most of the thirties with lonestar (not that there is anything wrong with them, but the quality of the movies can not be compared).

    My wife (who isn't a huge fan) really enjoyed this picture. It was sad when windy died near the end in the attack. There are also a lot of really funny one liners hidden in here.

    Now if there is a better version lying around some studio somewhere, I would love to see it, but I was pretty happy with the one I bought (the fox version of the film) and enjoyed it thoroughly.

    [SIZE=3]That'll Be The Day[/SIZE]

  • I would like to know about the UK VHS version of The Big Trail released by Fox. It's listed on Amazon UK at 116 minutes (PAL) which is 121 minutes NTSC. The DVD runs runs 108 minutes (NTSC). Is the UK VHS the same widescreen print that runs on the Fox Movie Channel? Even if it isn't, is the UK video version really 121 minutes (in NTSC and film time) or does it include extras?

    Keith responded in another topic that the UK VHS box does indeed say 116 minutes, and then I was directed to this topic. But is this pure film or does it include extras? Keith?

    Any info would be appreciated. Nothing would surprise me, especially since, for instance, the UK DVD of Without Reservations (1946) is six minutes longer than the heavily cut US print (VHS, LaserDisc and TCM library print; there's no RC1 DVD).


  • I have seen this film a few times now and find it very good.The noise that someone said in an earlier post (can't remember who that was now)doesn't seem to be on my version.This dvd is propably made specially for the Flemish speaking part of Belgium and for Holland as it starts straight with the dutch subtitles.There's no option to get rid of the subtitles either.

    And what a handsome young man Duke was back then... :wub:

  • Hi RoughRider,

    The VHS version I have, which is a genuine
    CBS/ FOX release, has a run-time of 116 minutes.
    The are a few trailers at the beggining,
    but they are not included in this time.

    It's interesting to note

    The Complete Films of John Wayne

    states a run time of 125 minutes!!

    Best Wishes
    London- England

  • Hello, and thanks for responding.

    So the PAL VHS (116 minutes) is equivalent to 121 minutes. That's about the same time as the Fox Movie Channel widescreen print shown in the US. Is the UK VHS in widescreen? Can you get the exact running time of the pure film with no extras? That's a little tricky if it's a VHS, of course, but perhaps you tranferred it to DVD which allows viewing total time to the second. The UK video was certified for release at 116m:35s in PAL, which is about 121m:30s in NTSC. But there could be extra stuff that added a few minutes.

    Although The Big Trail was in different incarnations, it was certified for a 1930 UK release at 109m:54s, pretty close to the DVD's running time. John Wayne at the Movies says the UK release was 99 minutes, so it was obviously cut further.

    Many sources say the film was initially 158 minutes for the widescreen version and 125 minutes for the standard version. It was copyrighted, though, at 13,000 feet which is about 144 minutes.

    The NTSC VHS is the full-frame 108-minute version like the DVD. So I'm most curious about the different UK VHS release, especially if it was widescreen and how long the pure film was.


  • Thanks, ethanedwards!

    I checked out Amazon UK and see that the UK DVD of The Big Trail is the same as the UK VHS, 116 minutes.

    So based on what you said of the VHS (the trailers not being part of the 116-minute PAL running time), the UK video release of The Big Trail is 13 minutes longer in real film time than the American video release, and about the same time as the Fox Movie Channel print.

    For the sake of comparison:

    - Fox RC1 DVD/VHS: 1.33:1; 108m:08s including exit music (equivalent to 103m:48s in PAL)
    - Fox Movie Channel print: 2.00:1; 119m:55s (equivalent to 115m:07s in PAL)
    - Fox RC2 DVD/VHS: 1.33:1; 116m:35s (equivalent to 121m:26s in NTSC)

    Can someone with the UK DVD of The Big Trail confirm the running time minus extraneous modern-day intros? In other words, is it 116m:35s of pure film? (This sounds like a silly question but I'm picky to a fault.) Also, does the UK DVD/VHS have exit music?


    John Wayne on DVD: A Filmography

  • Hello, ethanedwards

    OK, no exit music then.

    Yeah, the end credits these days are longer than some of Wayne's B-movies!

    I suspect the longer UK version of The Big Trail is because of language. The shorter RC1 DVD also has a Spanish soundtrack whereas the RC2 doesn't. But why Fox didn't add a Spanish soundtrack to the longer version and release it over here on RC1 is beyond me.

    This is a rare case where a RC2 DVD of Wayne's is longer than the RC1 equivalent. I think a few of his 1940's Republic films (e.g. Dakota) are a few minutes longer than their American counterparts, too. But this is something I'm looking into and need to confirm.


    John Wayne on DVD: A Filmography

  • Quote

    Originally posted by RoughRider@Oct 9 2006, 09:17 AM
    This is a rare case where a RC2 DVD of Wayne's is longer than the RC1 equivalent. I think a few of his 1940's Republic films (e.g. Dakota) are a few minutes longer than their American counterparts, too. But this is something I'm looking into and need to confirm.

    I'll quote myself here... never mind about some of the Republic films from the 1940's being longer in the UK. For some reason, obviously confusion, Amazon UK lists a number of VHS running times that reflect the actual duration in the theatre (or NTSC)--not the time it should be for a PAL video. It gets confusing when they mix PAL and NTSC times.


  • Quote

    Originally posted by dc65@Oct 1 2006, 07:58 PM
    Just watched the big trail on dvd and I thought it was fantastic. It's hard to believe that it was such a failure at the time that it set the duke's career back almost ten years.



    In one of the posts quoted by Keith above, by Arthur in December of 2005, Arthur explains why the film didn't do well -

    The reason the film was not the success it should have been was the format. The super 70 was in place in only a few cinemas throughout the United States and owners were not prepared to accommodate the film by putting the special screens in. Later as Cinemscope the new innovation became popular fifty years after its initial failure. At the same time Able Gance was encountering the same difficulties with His Napolean which was shown on three screens (the forerunner to Cinerama).

    We, too, have watched and enjoyed this film. Duke's relative inexperience acting makes it a little special. It is a decent story line, and an interesting little part of cinematic history.

    Chester :newyear:

  • An update on the UK video version of The Big Trail.

    I ordered the RC2 DVD from Amazon UK which lists the running time as 116 minutes, just like the VHS version mentioned earlier in this thread -- the one confirmed to be 116 in PAL (or 121 in NTSC film time). I was disappointed to discover that the RC2 DVD has exactly the same running time as the RC1 version (108 minutes NTSC).

    It seems, then, that the UK VHS is the one running 116 minutes in PAL and subsequent video releases on DVD used the shorter version. But the DVD Amazon UK sent me has the newer cover, the one saying Studio Classics at the top. The previous UK DVD, released in 2003, has a different cover and is listed at 116 minutes, too (probably a mistake by Amazon just like the newer version).

    It looks like I'll have to order the UK VHS of the film and convert it to NTSC then DVD-R, and see for myself. If ethanedwards hadn't confirmed the VHS's running time, I would have assumed it was a mistake in the Amazon listing just like the DVD. Actually I would still be curious because the VHS was passed for UK certification in 1990 at 116m:35s.

    ethanedward: what date and catalogue number (or other identifiers) appears on your UK VHS? There's always the chance the one I get will have a different cover and shorter running time, although Amazon UK lists only one VHS version, from CBS/Fox dated 1998. Does yours have the same cover as listed on Amazon UK? If the VHS was passed for certification in 1990, there may have been more than one version subsequently released. If so, it would have to be a shorter version because a longer one would require re-certification.


  • Hi RoughRider,

    OK, well, it does seem totally confusing,
    and If I hadn't carried out a physical check,
    it would be even more so.

    It looks like all the packaging has changed,
    and bear in mind, I bought my copy,
    when it was first re-released, a few years back!!

    Here is the only thumbnail I could find,
    but this is the same cover.


    The Front cover shows, a portrait type picture,
    headed by THE BIG TRAIL.
    under the picture is CBS FOX logo,
    (they also issued, Rio Lobo, Big Jake, The Undefeated,
    The Comancheros, North to Alaska, The Barbarian and the Geisha,
    at the same time)
    The spine shows, the same logo,
    followed by' JOHN WAYNE COLLECTION'



    The back cover has the usual blurb, and 3 stills.
    with these references.

    Black and White
    Running time:- approx 116 minutes.

    Copyright. 1930
    Renewed:- 1957.
    On the VHS label is printed,
    Copyright 1990,( When I bought it)
    I believe that the

    The Big Trail- The John Wayne Film Society

    still has this in stock, click on the link above,
    although the cover is different.
    It might be a good idea to EMail,
    Patrick and David.

  • Thanks for VHS details.

    Amazon UK had two copies of The Big Trail available from affiliate sellers, so I bought one. It's listed under the same VHS cover you show but with a 1998 release date. There's always the chance what I get won't reflect the cover shown, in which case it might not be the 116-minute version that you verified. It might be the cover shown on The John Wayne Film Society, which I assume is the newer VHS release.

    Since the UK DVD is 103 minutes (PAL), I imagine Fox would have released it to VHS as well. The back of the UK DVD says 'Approx 103 Minutes' and I've verified it to be the same print as the US DVD (right to the second). But it's obvious that Fox UK released a longer version on home video in 1990. Unless, of course, you were mistaken in your time calculation of the film from start to finish, and the BBFC's video running time of 116m:35s included trailers.

    I should note that PAL running times can get confusing. Some DVDs are encoded in such a way that there's no 4% PAL speedup. For example, the UK DVD of Lady from Louisiana plays back at exactly the same speed as NTSC (film time). The box says approximately 83 minutes and that's what it is in real time. So for some PAL videos, taking the running time and multiplying by 1.04 to get real film time isn't applicable. I think this would apply only to DVD which is purely digital as opposed to analog VHS. So in the case of Lady from Louisiana, if I play the DVD on my computer with WinDVD's 'PAL TruSpeed' feature turned on, the film plays 4% too fast. I verified this by syncing the UK DVD with a DVD-R culled from the American VHS -- they're exactly the same running time. The DVD is just digital data, and I guess it's up to the player's decoder to output either a PAL or NTSC signal.

    Another example is the UK DVD of The Magnificent Showman which syncs perfectly with the NTSC DVD I have under the title Circus World, all without compensating for PAL speedup. Other UK DVDs, though, have to be sped up to see real film time (like The Big Trail). This understanding of PAL is important because it can alter the true running time of a film. But as mentioned, I don't think this applies to VHS although I could be wrong. A VHS running 116m:35s in PAL should be equivalent to 121m:26s in NTSC.

    I'll post an update once I have the UK VHS converted to NTSC and do sync tests to verify the running time.


    John Wayne on DVD: A Filmography