"The Big Trail" is a visually arresting, often riveting Western epic featuring an impossibly young John Wayne in his first major starring role. However, this ambitious 1930 film by director Raoul Walsh is largely viewed as a footnote from the early days of the Hollywood sound era.

“The Big Trail” is a visually arresting, often riveting Western epic featuring an impossibly young John Wayne in his first major starring role. However, this ambitious 1930 film by director Raoul Walsh is largely viewed as a footnote from the early days of the Hollywood sound era. Fox’s new two-disc set helps showcase the film and offers a bounty of informative extra features to remind viewers of the film’s innovations.  

One of the bonus featurettes details the picture’s cumbersome and experimental filming process. Walsh shot the film in both 35mm and the then-pioneering 70mm, dubbed “Fox Grandeur.” However, 70mm required upgraded projection systems in theaters still recovering from the accommodations necessary for “talkies;” it would be more than 20 years before widescreen formats caught on with films like “The Robe” and “How to Marry a Millionaire.” As a result, very few filmgoers saw “The Big Trail” the way that Walsh and 20th Century Fox intended. Disc two offers the film in the standard, full-frame format.

 “Trail” may be dated and slow-moving by today’s standards, but it also features some truly amazing visual treats to which the standard screen ratio couldn’t possibly do justice. It’s also fun to see Wayne developing his nascent acting skills. Another featurette looks at his early days as a performer and the rivalry he sparked between directors Walsh and John Ford, who had differing opinions of how to use the Duke’s talents. After the box office disappointment of “The Big Trail,” Wayne retreated to “B” Westerns before Ford’s 1939 “Stagecoach” made him a star.

Commentary by Time critic Richard Schickel is fast-paced and well-informed, but overlaps significantly with the disc’s other extras.

Read Variety‘s original 1930 review of the film here.

The Big Trail

2-disc set; $19.98; Release: May 13, 2008.

Production

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Crew

B&W, widescreen/fullframe. Running Time: 122 minutes

Cast

Cast: John Wayne, Marguerite Churchill, Tyrone Power Sr., Ian Keith.
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