Raoul Walsh's The Big Trail is the centerpiece of the John Wayne The Fox Westerns 4 DVD set. The other John Wayne movies in this box set are The Comancheros, North to Alaska, and The Undefeated costarring Rock Hudson.
The Big Trail includes the 70mm version of the movie and the more sepia toned full screen version of this classic tale of a wagon train heading west. The restoration is not perfect, there are a few scratches, a few more streaks, and 1 or 2 seconds clipped here and there but it is as good as it could get. This in no way detracts from enjoying this movie.
A fan of the genre hardly knows where to start. This one started with The Big Trail, the 70mm print of course aka the Fox Grandeur version that reveals the true beauty of Raoul Walsh's movie. There are many tableau shots here worthy of a museum. The inevitable battle with the Indians is especially visually interesting.
The movie and the wagon train take a while to kick off. Some thirty minutes in fact.
This is in part to introduce characters like Breck Coleman (Wayne), no good hustler Bill Thorpe, love interest Ruth Cameron (Marguerite Churchill), and the Swedish man and his mother-in-law who provide some comic breaks.
There is also wagon boss Tyrone Power Sr. who chews scenery as often as he chews those little cigars of his. He and his partner are the real reason Coleman scouts for the settlers as he is out to avenge a friend's death.
The Big Trail now has an almost historical quality to it. There are quite a few scenes here that respect the show don't tell rule for getting across how arduous a prairie schooner journey could be. It was also made before westerns went Hollywood and were influenced by the city slickers' concept of the old west.
Action wise, this John Wayne movie is definitely not packing it in. This is really a movie about people and not bad guys and good guys.
Special features on this John Wayne DVD include a commentary track with film historian Richard Schickel who sounds like he thinks he is in a theater and so must whisper his comments; the creation of John Wayne, Raoul Walsh A Man and His time; The Big Vision the Grandeur Process, a photo gallery, and a making of.