The best thing about THE VIRGINIAN is the pretty school teacher played by Barbara Britton, and very convincingly too. Shortly upon her arrival in town she's met by two cowboy friends, Sonny Tufts and Joel McCrea. As is standard for many a western, at first she and The Virginian (Joel McCrea) don't get on--sort of like an earlier screen western starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland ("Dodge City") where they meet and fall out immediately before winding up in love before the final reel.
But, as is usual in these westerns, although she eventually falls for McCrea, she struggles against losing him in a fight with villainous Trampas (Brian Donlevy), always attired in black so we get the picture. But before the finish, she and the hero ride horseback into the setting sunset. The story has the flavor of a Zane Grey western novel, although penned by Owen Wister.
The simple tale has some nice performances from the star trio (McCrea, Britton and Tufts), but it's Fay Bainter and Henry O'Neill who give it a warm touch as a couple of homesteaders who take the schoolmarm in.
Nothing about the tale suggests why it is such a classic by Owen Wister, especially in this rather humdrum version where the most striking asset is the beautiful Technicolor scenery. The plot is slight, to say the least, and there's little punch to the predictable ending.
The only real surprise is the fact that McCrea's code of honor permits him to let his old friend hang for a rustling crime. It's the only original and surprising touch in the story.
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