American Experience (1988– )

The Donner Party (28 Oct. 1992)

TV Episode   |  TV-PG   |    |  Documentary, Biography, History

The Donner Party (1992) Poster

Doomed attempt to get to California in 1846. More than just a riveting tale of death, endurance and survival. The Donner Party's nightmarish journey penetrated to the very heart of the ... See full summary »


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25 August 2013 | AaronCapenBanner
| Chilling & Haunting Masterpiece.
An episode of the PBS series "American Experience", this re-telling of the doomed expedition of the Donner and Reed families to migrate from Illinois to California in covered wagons in the years 1846-1847, only to find devastating disappointment, hardship, and bad luck as they get stuck in the Sierra Nevada Mountains during a record series of blizzards is so unexpectedly compelling, moving, and powerful, that it was worthy of being released as a feature film.

There is no gore or on screen violence at all, despite the grim and grisly details, this instead uses narrated excerpts from the diaries of the family members to tell the story, and a more effective narrative device could not have been found; modern horror film-makers could learn a great deal on how effective subtlety, light and shadow can be. It is quietly told, yet retains such dramatic impact that it may bring you to tears. Eerie, sweeping music score will leave you breathless. Ending line, "Remember, never take no cut offs, and hurry along as fast as you can." is devastating.

Highly recommended!

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Composed and Performed by
Harold Budd
Courtesy of Upala Music, Inc. and Warner Bros. Records
By Arrangement with Warner Special Products


Plot Summary


Documentary | Biography | History


Release Date:

28 October 1992



Country of Origin


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