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USA 1941
Directed by
Fritz Lang
91 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Western Union

Fritz Lang is not a director who you are likely to associate with the Western but in fact this was his second outing in the genre, having directed The Return of Frank James the previous year.

Loosely based on a story by Zane Grey, Western Union tells of the laying of telegraph lines from Omaha to Salt Lake City during the time of the Civil War when white men in the pay of the South were more of a threat than Indians to these brave pioneers. Randolph plays outlaw Vance Shaw on a tilt at redemption who is working for Western Union surveyor Edward Creighton (Dean Jagger). Vance’s attempt to go straight and win the heart of Creighton’s sister (Virginia Gilmore), beating off his competitor, Mr Nice Guy Richard Blake (Robert Young), go awry when his crooked brother, Jack Slade (Barton MacLane,) and his gang turn up and try to get him to revert to his old outlaw ways. Vance is torn between his loyalty to his ne’er-do-well brother and his new way of life, a conflict that will lead to a deadly showdown.

There are Fordian themes here, in particular the taming of the West by the white man but Lang makes little of these, opting instead to concentrate on Vance’s moral dilemma. Here there is arguably a misjudgement in leaving the revelation of the cause of Vance’s compromised position until so late in the film as we have up until then no understanding of his classically noble behaviour and little time left to be impressed by it. Equally Robert Young’s dandy-from-the-East is an ill-defined character, part figure-of-fun but also remarkably canny and ultimately heroic. There are a number of other colorful characters including the comically cowardly cook Herman (George "Slim" Summerville), the tobacco-juice spitting assistant-scout, Homer (Chill Wills), and the urbane company doctor (John Carradine). Despite the moral undercurrents Lang is content to let the story play for general entertainment value than aspire to anything more significant.




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