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?!
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