The Iron Horse (1924) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Iron Horse (1924)

The Iron Horse (1924)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

The Iron Horse Photos

Movie Info

Iron Horse is the seminal western epic and is the film that proved that B movie director John Ford was a major filmmaking talent. Considered a classic, this sweeping tale of the construction of the first transcontinental railroad contains many elements and characters that would later become stock parts of the western genre. The film opens as an idealistic builder shares his dream of building a railroad to link the coasts with a general contractor who pooh-poohs the idea until President Lincoln himself steps in and okays the immense project. The builder and his young son travel to Monument Valley to scout out an acceptable route for the new railroad and select an enormous pass. Unfortunately, they are set upon by Indians and the builder dies. The son, Davy, survives though and grows up to become a rider for the Pony Express. One day he finds himself pursued by more murderous Indians and is only able to escape by jumping off his exhausted horse onto a speeding train. He ends up at the construction sight of the slowly eastwardly moving tracks and there Davy meets the man who years ago, disagreed with his father. This man is now in charge of the project. Davy also meets the contractor's beautiful daughter. Romantic sparks fly, but unfortunately, the girl is engaged to the treacherous surveyor assigned to find a safe route for the pass (Davy and his father already found such a place, but the Indian attack occurred before they could tell anyone). No one realizes that the surveyor secretly works for a greedy rancher who wants the railroad to go across his enormous spread. When Davy tells the surveyor about the route he and his father found, he doesn't understand why the surveyor staunchly insists that the railroad cross the rancher's land until the surveyor attempts to have him killed. Davy investigates and learns that it was the rancher, not the Indians who really killed his father.


Winston Miller
as Davy (younger)
George O'Brien
as Davy Brandon
Peggy Cartwright
as Miriam (younger)
Madge Bellamy
as Miriam Marsh
Charles Edward Bull
as Abraham Lincoln
Cyril Chadwick
as Peter Jesson
Francis Powers
as Sgt. Slattery
John Padjan
as Wild Bill Hickok
Charles O'Malley
as Maj. North
Charles Newton
as Collis P. Huntington
Delbert Mann
as Charles Crocker
Frances Teague
as Polka Dot
Judge Charles
as Abraham Lincoln
Chief White Spear
as Sioux Chief
Chief John Big Tree
as Cheyenne Chief
Edward Peil Sr.
as Old Chinaman
George Waggner
as Buffalo Bill Cody
William Walling
as Thomas Marsh
Show More Cast

Critic Reviews for The Iron Horse

All Critics (9) | Top Critics (1)

The picture is absurd-and enjoyable.

Full Review… | September 14, 2015
New Yorker
Top Critic

Mid-level Ford, full of both interest and faults.

Full Review… | April 1, 2013
Classic Film and Television

John Ford's first American epic is not a birth of a nation, but its physical and symbolic unification in the wake of the Civil War.

Full Review… | August 11, 2010
Parallax View

Surprising by virtue of how much of Ford's mature work is already in evidence.

Full Review… | April 15, 2009
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

It's hard to argue that the film is more than very competent.

Full Review… | January 10, 2008
Antagony & Ecstasy

Although Ford is not yet at the peak of his artistic powers in The Iron Horse, the film is still immensely entertaining and fascinating as a glimpse of the early Ford.

November 29, 2007

Audience Reviews for The Iron Horse


The message of this movie: John Ford is in love with Abraham Lincoln. Why do some silent films have to be so long? Honestly. It's hard enough to watch silent film sometimes, but it can be really challenging when the movies spans over two-and-a-half hours. Thank goodness the movie was pretty solid. I accidentally watched two Transcontinental Railroad movies in a week. I'm probably the first person to ever write that sentence. But according to the 501 Must See Movies, I had to see both of these. The Brit who probably wrote this this is an American history nerd who thought the expansion of the West was fodder for great filmmaking. Luckily, he picked some amazing movies. The only weird part is that they both tell history slightly different. (Take that, Critical Literacy!) In Union Pacific, the story implies that the Union Pacific made it to the destination first. The Iron Horse straight up says that the Central Pacific made it to its destination first. Who to believe? NO ONE! The Iron Horse has a lot less character drama in it compared to Union Pacific. That's really unfortunate, because Union Pacific is really a fun movie while this one is kind of left to "good" movie. It's a lot more of the "hows" of how the Transcontinental Railroad was made and not the people. Yes, there's the story of Brandon, which is really the most interesting part, but he has to share half-the-film with the technical aspects. Unlike Tora! Tora! Tora!, at least the historical aspects are really interesing and people do flips on horses and stuff. (Rather than just talk...*groan*.) Again, for a silent film, this movie does look pretty fantastic. There's some cool shots of horse chases and some interesting improvized fist fights. I am happy that I've seen Union Pacific first simply because it explained why people wanted to destroy the railroad. Ford doesn't so much explain why people don't want the railroad to exist, we're just supposed to know our history. Sorry, despite the degree, I don't know everything.

Tim Hruszkewycz
Tim Hruszkewycz

Aside from some moments that go too far in their adoration of Lincoln and the period in general, this early Ford epic works well. His effortlessly poetic shots of Irish workers look ahead to How Green Was My Valley. I think it works best as a silent because Ford is able to avoid the temptations of lengthy dialogue scenes. There's also a sense that some of the shots could've been lifted from still from the era. A few of the leads have a bit too much makeup, but it's the supporting cast that shines (or rather, looks appropriately dingy).

Richard Stracke
Richard Stracke

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