15 June 2015 | bkoganbing
The scoop on Oregon
Fred MacMurray always maintained that he never really liked the westerns in his film resume. His legendary quote was that he felt 'the horse and I never were as one'. Still starting with The Texas Rangers in 1936 he did several westerns of varying quality and the last of them before becoming the Disney Studios mainstay in family comedies was The Oregon Trail.
A bit of history is thrown in here with Fred MacMurray being a reporter for James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald. Bennett has assigned MacMurray to a story that the President of the United States one James Knox Polk has given orders that troops be secretly sent to the Oregon territory in case we go to war with Great Britain over the Oregon territory as to its boundary. MacMurray joins a wagon train headed by scout Henry Hull as a passenger and the group of men hired by 'freighter' William Bishop certainly spark his reporter's curiosity.
Giving some background are scenes with Addison Richard as President Polk and Lumsden Hare as the British ambassador. Polk was quite the tough negotiator and Great Britain having that empire on which the sun never set had a lot of commitments around the world in the end didn't want to risk war with the USA. The Russians had already pulled out of the Pacific northwest country some years earlier Mexico would lose California and the rest of the Mexican Cession after that other foreign policy endeavor the Mexican War. That left American possession of the area up to the 49th parallel secure. In fact word is received by William Bishop by now openly a captain that the boundary was settled but the Mexican War has started and his troops needed south.
This was the farewell film of William Bishop who died the year The Oregon Trail came out. He was a fine actor who normally played villains, but occasionally was a good guy as he is here. He even gets the girl here in the person of Gloria Talbott traveling west with her family.
MacMurray gets himself a woman as well with Arapaho Indian Nina Shipman. Another reviewer criticized Shipman's portrayal here and wondered how she could turn on her own people. She's of mixed race origin and her father is John Dierkes who is a mountain man who to use the British phrase has 'gone native'. He does say some interesting things here about the eventual fate of the Indian, but he also has adopted a lot of Indian customs such as male superiority. Not that women were all that equal in white society. But he treats his daughter like property. No wonder she falls for MacMurray, she's not used to Indians just simply being polite.
I got the feeling that 20th Century Fox had bigger plans for The Oregon Trail, but scaled it down and it's now an interesting but routine B western.