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  • By 1959, TV westerns had begun to replace the Hollywood B-western so there's the distinct feeling that "The Oregon Trail" -- despite its color and widescreen -- really isn't needed. Certainly there's no passion or style apparent in the film's making. It's more a case of everyone just going through the motions and collecting a paycheck.

    Things begin unpromisingly with a scene involving President Polk in Washington D.C. This scene tries to give the story a historical context but it's on the dull and talky side. This is followed by another lax scene in which dapper, man-about-town reporter, Fred MacMurray, is assigned to go west on a wagon train and write a story for his newspaper. Finally, as MacMurray arrives in Westport, Missouri -- the eastern start of the Oregon Trail -- things begin rolling. They do so in a conventional way, however, and the entire trek west is filled with the usual situations: troubling encounters with Indians, dry water holes, tensions among the folk on the wagon train, an unexpected rain storm, a funeral service by the side of the trail, a settler protecting his apple-tree seedlings, etc. The use of stock shots and indoor sets hamper the effects of many of these scenes and there's no real villain to conflict with Fred MacMurray. There's also no tension about his mission since he makes no effort to hide it and the possible romantic- triangle involving him and William Bishop and Nina Shipman never takes form. Instead, MacMurray is implausibly paired with Gloria Talbott who appears fairly late in the proceedings.

    Action builds toward a last-reel Indian attack which now seems quite "politically incorrect." (The "half-breed" Indian girl implausibly says: "It is because of this, I renounce my people.") Perhaps the only notable thing about "The Oregon Trail" is the scene in which Indians capture Fred MacMurray, strip off his shirt, and stake him out to die. (For a man in his early 50s, MacMurray looks pretty good bare-chested!) While TV westerns often staged these stake-outs, they're not all that common in the movies, and who'd believe one of them would "star" an actor about to get a career boost by playing in Disney comedies?!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I actually liked this movie better then some of the posters. It is important to NOT look at this movie in terms of 2016. Why is that? For example:One of the biggest complaints about this movie was about the 1/2 white 1/2 Indian girl Shona Hastings ( Gloria Talbott) renouncing her people. Keep in mind why did she? Seeing the pleasure on certain people's faces like her father's when small children die is the reason why. What they did was not about a military objective it was actually enjoying killing. As for her father, Gabe (John Dierkes), his guy did not "Go Native" to use a British term that a poster used. This guy hated people, and the Indians just gave him the means and opportunity to inflict hurt on others as opposed to preferring a lifestyle or favoring some cause ( right or wrong). If you watch the movie and see how her father treated her ( like a savage) you will see he had no love for her. Spoilers Ahead: Did she choose Neal Harris ( Fred MacMurray) when she saved him after being tied up? Yes she did but that was a personal choice she made. The reason she did was Neal treated her with kindness, decency and respect which no one else did. That act is what saved everyone from getting killed ( not just MacMurray). Is it a great movie? No but well worth watching ( although I suspect it will be hard to find because certain people will not like it) 9/10 Stars.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This could have been a reasonably realistic epic of a typical wagon train journey from Westport, Missouri to the Oregon Territory. Unfortunately, the vision of the script writer was myopic. In some respects, it's accurate. J.G. Bennett was an influential newspaperman of this era, founding the New York Herald. There was a dispute between the US and Britain over the northern boundary of the Oregon Territory, and this was settled in 1846: the year this wagon train rolled over the prairie. The imminent war with Mexico was an important consideration in settling this dispute quickly and peacefully. Samuel Colt's 6 shooter revolver, a shipment to Fort Laramie being dramatized, was available in 1846. A large order for this weapon was sent by the army in preparation for a war with Mexico. Probably, considerable numbers of soldiers in frontier forts were re-assigned to the Mexican War, but I doubt that the forts were left virtually defenseless, as dramatized.

    On the other hand, I saw only horses pulling the wagons, whereas historically, they pulled only a small percentage of overland wagons, in contrast to the larger Conestoga freight wagons of the East.. Oxen were the preferred draft animals unless time was of the essence. Those trains that left late in the good traveling season often used mules, because they were faster. Also, participants, except for the very young and infirm, seldom rode in the wagon. That added weight to what the stock had to pull and was very uncomfortable with the rough roads and lack of shock absorbers... The climax of the film is a raid on Fort Laramie by a substantial number of Indians. Historically, this was very unlikely, especially in broad daylight. Indians very rarely attacked well built and defended forts. What was their motive for such an attack? We have no idea, other than whites were crossing their territory. As long as they moved on, no problem. They might even want to do some trading. Then again, they might want to steal some things. In this case, perhaps they knew the fort had few army defenders, thus might be vulnerable. But, all those wagons couldn't have fit in the fort, so many must have been outside, but we didn't see any. The Indians should have attacked them instead of the fort. In fact ,especially in the early years of mass migrations, Indians very seldom attacked substantial wagon trains, except maybe stragglers. Over a 20 year period, it's documented that only 360 emigrants died from Indian attacks, and that 90% of those killings occurred west of South Pass, to which this wagon train never made it during the film. Out of an estimated 20,000 deaths during this travel, a mere 2% are attributed to Indian attacks. The main documented causes of death included being run over by wagon wheels or trampled by livestock, accidental firing of firearms, drowning in crossing rivers, and various diseases, especially cholera. All of these could have easily been included in the film instead of an Indian attack. Children and the elderly were the most frequent victims

    There has been criticism by several reviewers about the Indian maiden Shona(Gloria Talbott) renouncing her Indian identity, near the end of the film. Remember that her father was a European, and was killed in the Indian attack. Her mother apparently was also dead. Thus, she felt free to marry whomever she chose, which was Harris(Fred MacMurray). True, at age 51, he seemed a little old for an Indian maiden, but he had no objections. Perhaps she was also angry that the Indians attacked the fort for no apparent reason. At the same time, Harris renounced his association with his newspaper, in favor of becoming a settler with Shona.

    In conclusion, this film could have presented the events of a typical wagon train much more realistically, without the obligatory Indian attack, and including the last half of the journey. To do so, it would need to have been nearly twice as long.
  • 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.
  • It's fun to watch all the old westerns now. Looking back at my childhood viewing of this movie, I never noticed all the painted studio backdrops used in the movie. What seemed so real as a child, now seems so fake as an old man.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    First off, Fred MacMuuray is not my idea of a Western action hero, so seeing him here is more of a novelty than anything else. The picture was reminiscent of the style of a Walt Disney flick, but there again, that convention is turned on it's head when a young boy is shot and killed by an Indian arrow near the finale, a sit up and take notice moment that was more shocking than necessary, story line or otherwise. I guess the picture lost it's fascination for me by the third time the wagon train passed the same mountain on a painted background, which I found to be curious, since the rest of the story took place in the great outdoors. So why the set piece? - I just didn't get it.

    As far as the story goes, there's a mid course correction regarding the destination of the disguised cavalry officers along for the ride. Initially commissioned to thwart British designs on the Oregon Territory, Captain Wayne (William Bishop) is dispatched to a mission on the Mexican border. At least the story managed to insert that ancient history lesson regarding '54/40 or Fight', it sounded cool, but viewers today might be left scratching their heads.

    The film is pretty much an entirely sanitized affair, made almost laughable during the Arapaho raid on Fort Laramie, when soldiers and Indians bypass each other repeatedly without striking out at each other. To my mind, half breed Shona (Gloria Talbott) killing the Chief was really asking for trouble, and all it provided was a reason for Shona to renounce her Indian heritage, when renouncing her white father (John Dierkes) would have made a lot more sense.

    Sorry folks, can't go out on a short limb to recommend this one. I can't think of even a minor reason to tune in here, other than the curious casting of the principals, and the appearance of old time black and white character actors like Henry Hull and John Carradine in a color picture. Ultimately though, even that doesn't save this flick from being much more than a curiosity piece, and I'd be much more curious about something else.
  • Can't help but think this version of 'The Oregon Trail' was put together hurriedly to cash in on the enormous popularity of the TV series 'Wagon Train' with Ward Bond? Having said that, it's always a pleasure to watch Fred MacMurray, one of the movies most versatile stars, his stock in trade was comedy, but he was equally effective in drama, or rugged outdoor films, like this was supposed to be, and at 6'3" and that great physique, I think he fits the bill! First time I'd seen that gorgeous blonde, Nina Shipman, can't help but think Fred should have finished up with her instead of the Indian maiden? Fun to see some of the screens great old character actors like Henry Hull and John Carradine, plus Elizabeth Patterson, who played the Mother of Fred and Bing Crosby in 1938's 'Sing You Sinners', she would have been in her 80's here, and still great! Not a great film by any means, but enjoyable enough if your a fan of the stars, and I am! Sadly William Bishop died the same year the film was released, 1959!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Henry Hull & John Carradine chewed the scenery.Loved Carradine defending his trees. Expected Henry Hull to pull out the arrow and keep on keeping on.Macmurray good as hero. Plenty of bloodshed,William Bishop is related to Helen Hayes by marriage,he playing the Capt assigned to wagon train. Anyone watching a Western has to realize the scripts were written many years ago and things are not PC.Take that into consideration before commenting on someone else's remarks, or reactions to old films. Today's retreads can't compare,the Seth Rogen's and some other alleged writers are not PC,just posers many times,IMHO!And many of today's actors can't act better than Soap Opera stars which is pretty lame. At least many of the stars prior to 2000 had stage training and class.
  • I was enjoyed to see this pretty little western again. Colourful, action packed, with interesting and deep searched characters. Real good picture indeed.

    But there is one thing that petrified me literally.I was torn to pieces when the Indian girl, who was in love with Mac Murray and saved him from the Indian warrior, says that she disowns her own people - because of his ferocity, after the ending slaughter. SHAME ON HER !!!

    I have never heard such a crap, sorry nonsense, in a western before; and I have already seen thousands of them since I was a kid !!!

    I am an Indian lover, and proud of that. I am also sad and angry when I think about all that white people did to the Indian nation. They wiped them out. For their land only. They nearly killed them all with bullets, hunger, plagues, alcohol, misery in reservation - even now...

    So, in short, when I hear that kind of nonsense from a character in a movie, particularly an Indian one, i prefer think about something else or switch my TV set off.

    But, let's be fair, except for that, "Oregon trail" is nevertheless a good western.