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Across the Wide Missouri


#365 - Across the Wide Missouri
William A. Wellman, 1951



In the mid-19th century, a fur trapper leads an expedition through Native American territory and must contend with a dangerous war chief.

Across the Wide Missouri is a fairly short and ultimately disposable Western rooted in historical accounts of the fur trade. There's no small amount of mythmaking involved as the tale is narrated by the protagonist's son (who also happens to be an infant who is present during these events), as well as playing into a typical "cowboys and Indians" kind of story. Maybe it has to do with the fact that my main experience with Westerns tends to be the modern revisionist type that either subvert or avoid that particular brand of conflict - even so, if a film is good enough it should be able to do well in spite of that. There are hints of depth here and there as Clark Gable's arrogant hunter leads a group through hostile territory despite the warnings of his subordinates, even finding time to buy and marry a Native woman (María Elena Marqués) as a means of insuring himself against attack by the local population. Of course, this just ends up drawing the unwanted attention of a war chief (Ricardo Montalban) anyway.

On the technical side, it's competent without being impressive. The performances are passable, with Gable showcasing his usual roguish charm without significant variation, while Montalban is rather wasted as an antagonist. Despite the short running time, there are long stretches where it's easy to get bored, though there's just enough of interest going on to stop me giving this a sufficiently unfavourable rating (that climax was really well-handled and a huge point in the film's favour). It's nothing special at the end of the day, even with its slightly-more-complicated-than-expected treatise on the relationship between white Americans and Native Americans.