Combustible Celluloid
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With: Robert Young, Randolph Scott, Dean Jagger, Virginia Gilmore, John Carradine, Slim Summerville, Chill Wills, Barton MacLane, Russell Hicks, Victor Kilian, Minor Watson, George Chandler, Chief John Big Tree, Chief Thundercloud, Dick Rich, Addison Richards, Irving Bacon
Written by: Robert Carson, based on a novel by Zane Grey
Directed by: Fritz Lang
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 91
Date: 01/31/1941

Western Union (1941)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Telegraph Lines

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Western Union on DVD (Region 2, PAL)

Fritz Lang told Peter Bogdanovich that he had more control over his second Western, the Technicolor Western Union (1941), than he did over his first, The Return of Frank James (1940). But watching the films, the opposite seems true. Frank James tackles Langian themes about wrong choices and fate, while Western Union seems more like a leftover John Ford production, a patriotic affair about the building of the first telegraph lines through the Old West. Randolph Scott starts out like a Lang hero, as Vance Shaw, an escaped bandit who suddenly decides to rescue a fellow traveler. The fellow turns out to be Edward Creighton (Dean Jagger), the man in charge of the telegraph lines. He gives Vance a job and a chance to go straight. But rather than suffering the sins of his past, Vance simply moves on, starting a three-way love triangle between himself, Richard's pretty sister (Virginia Gilmore) and a dandyish tenderfoot Richard Blake (Robert Young), who dresses in cowboy gear from the big city. Things pick up in the dark final third, when Vance's sinister brother (Barton MacLane) begins to cause trouble for the telegraph company; there's a famous -- very Langian -- scene in which Scott, tied up with rope, escapes by holding his bonds over a real fire. John Carradine co-stars as a doctor, and George "Slim" Summerville provides some odd humor as a hapless cook.

DVD Details: Western Union is unavailable on DVD in the U.S., but I checked out the Region 2 British release, from Optimum Releasing. It's a pretty solid package, but weak on the extras.

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