Westward the Women
|Westward the Women|
Theatrical film poster
|Directed by||William A. Wellman|
|Produced by||Dore Schary|
|Screenplay by||Charles Schnee|
|Story by||Frank Capra|
|Music by||Jeff Alexander|
|Cinematography||William C. Mellor|
|Edited by||James E. Newcom|
|December 31, 1951|
In 1851, Roy Whitman (John McIntire) decides to bring marriageable women west to California to join the lonely men of Whitman's Valley, hoping the couples will put down roots and settle there. Roy hires a skeptical, experienced wagon master, Buck Wyatt (Robert Taylor), to lead the wagon train along the California Trail. In Chicago, Roy recruits 138 "good women", after they have been warned of the journey's hardships and dangers by Buck, who flatly states up to a third of them might not survive the journey. The women range from Patience (Hope Emerson), an older widow from New Bedford seeking a new start after losing her sea captain husband and sons when their clipper went down while attempting to round Cape Horn, to Rose Meyers (Beverly Dennis), a pregnant, unmarried woman running from her shame. Telling the women about his valley, Roy encourages them to pick their prospective mates from daguerreotype pictures he has tacked to a display board. Two showgirls, Fifi Danon (Denise Darcel) and Laurie Smith (Julie Bishop), hastily change their flashy clothes when others like them are rejected, and return to try and sign on again. Whitman is not fooled by their disguise, but convinced their wish to reform is sincere he adds them to the group, bringing the number of women on the wagon train up to 140.
Roy and Buck take the women to St. Joseph, Missouri, where Conestoga wagons, horses, and mules are awaiting them, along with the men Buck has hired to protect the wagon train. Their number includes Ito (Henry Nakamura), a wiry Japanese man who signs on as Buck's cook and personal assistant. Before setting out, Buck warns the trail hands that, "On most wagon trains, the penalty for bundling is 30 lashes. On my train, it's a bullet." He has seen wagon trains torn apart by unmarried men taking up with unmarried women and won't tolerate it on this crossing.
The four women who have experience handling teams teach the others how to harness up the animals and drive the wagons, assisted by the men Buck hired. After a week's training, Buck leads the train west.
Buck is as good as his word about bundling. During the journey, he shoots one of his men as punishment for raping Laurie. As a result, all but two of the trail hands desert the train in the middle of the night, taking eight of the women with them. This leaves only Buck, Roy, Ito, and Sid Cutler (an uncredited Pat Conway), who has fallen in love with the pregnant Rose, to lead the train. Roy, feeling he cannot continue without more experienced hands, decides the group must turn back. Buck, knowing that they've already come halfway to their destination, and not wanting the reputation of a wagon master who turns back, believes the women can learn to "do a man's job," and starts training them to shoot so they can defend the train. However, young Tony Maroni, the only boy on the train, is accidentally killed during firearms practice. When his mother (Renata Vanni) refuses to leave her son's grave in the desert, Buck knocks out the distraught woman, hogties her, and puts her in Patience and Rose's wagon. The problem is worse than it looks: Mrs. Maroni speaks only Italian, and no one else on the train does. The wagon train continues on its way.
The women perform heroically, persevering through hardships including a stampede and a wicked descent down a steep, rocky trail that kills one of them when an iron hook attached to the restraining lines straightens under load and sends the wagon plunging out of control. An Indian attack kills Roy, Sid, and six of the women. When a rainstorm causes flooding and undercuts the riverbank her wagon is parked on, Laurie is trapped inside and drowns. However, Fifi's bravery and determination begin to thaw Buck's attitude towards women in general and her in particular, and they fall in love.
On the edge of the desert, Buck orders the women to lighten the wagons, explaining how difficult the crossing will be. Reluctantly, the women leave everything from furniture to fancy clothing behind. As they proceed, Rose goes into labor and delivers a male baby. The train is nearly at the end of its tether when they come to a small lake that marks the border of Whitman's Valley and slake their desert thirst. Buck rides on ahead to inform the men of the valley that their brides are nigh.
Now that the survivors have finally reached their destination, the women balk at entering the town where their prospective grooms are waiting. They refuse to go any further until Buck brings them decent clothing and "pretty things" so that they will look presentable, telling him to warn the men anyone approaching the wagon train will be shot on sight. The men of the valley gather together curtains, tablecloths, Indian blankets, any material they can find, for the women to make into new clothes.
Back in proper dresses instead of the pants and working skirts they had worn crossing the continent, the ladies drive triumphantly into town and pair up with the men whose pictures they carried across the country, with Patience warning the men that it is the women and not the men who will be doing the choosing. All of them find mates, including Mrs. Maroni, who pairs off with a citrus farmer born in Milan, and Rose, who is chosen by a gentleman who does not care she has an infant son. Some of the happy couples get in line before the preacher, while others dance inside a large open air gazebo. Ito coaxes Fifi to swallow her pride and go to Buck, who is preparing to ride out, instead of waiting for him to come to her. Fifi and Buck join the line to be married as Ito watches the weddings.
- Robert Taylor as Buck Wyatt
- Denise Darcel as Fifi Danon
- John McIntire as Roy E. Whitman
- Hope Emerson as Patience Hawley
- Julie Bishop as Laurie Smith
- Lenore Lonergan as Maggie O'Malley
- Henry Nakamura as Ito Yoshisuke Takeyoshi Gennosuke Kentaro
- Marilyn Erskine as Jean Johnson
- Beverly Dennis as Rose Meyers
- Renata Vanni as Mrs. Maroni
- Pat Conway as Sid Cutler
A documentary included in the film's DVD states that it was filmed at various locations in Kane County, Utah. Film locations also include Johnson Canyon, the Gap, Paria, and Surprise Valley in Utah. The documentary also mentions that the actresses all had to learn how to drive a four horse team pulling a wagon.
According to MGM records the film earned $2,640,000 in the US and Canada and $1,356,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $266,000.
Caravans of women
In 1985, the Spanish village of Plan, Aragón made Spanish news because local bachelors organized a "caravan of women" after Westward the Women was aired on TV. At the time the plan was conceived, there were over 40 single men and just one single woman in the town, since most of the local women had emigrated. An advertisement in the press calling for "Women between 20 and 40 with marriage intentions for Pyrenees village" resulted in 33 marriages, revitalizing Plan. Since then, other Spanish villages have organized similar "caravans".
- "The Eddie Mannix Ledger". Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study. Los Angeles. Missing or empty
- Documentary included with the DVD Westward the Women. ASIN B007RKFXQW.
- D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: a history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423605874.
- Kirby, Walter (December 28, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 36. Retrieved June 5, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- (in Spanish)"Los hijos de la caravana, sin plan". El Mundo. 16 January 2005.