The Big Trail (1930)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Movie Info

The first "epic" western of the talkie era, The Big Trail is motivated by a hero's search for the murderer of his father. Twenty-three-year-old John Wayne, hitherto limited to bit parts, was thrust into the difficult leading role, a young mountaineer put in charge of a huge California-bound wagon train. Over the next several months, Wayne and his fellow pioneers face every imaginable hazard and disaster, from blistering desert heat to blinding snowstorms, negotiating steep cliffs, treacherous … More

Rating: Unrated
Genre: Western, Drama, Classics
Directed By: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Written By: Jack Peabody, Marie Boyle, Florence Postal, Fred Sersen
In Theaters:
On DVD: May 20, 2003
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment



as Breck Coleman

as Ruth Cameron

as Zeke, Coleman's sid...

as Gus, comical Swede

as Red Flack

as Dave Cameron

as Windy Bill

as Windy Bill

as Honey Girl

as Gussie's mother-in-l...

as Abigail

as Bill Gillis

as Sid Bascom

as Mrs. Riggs

as Mary Riggs

as Ohio Man's Son

as Boat Captain

as Mary Riggs

as Ohio Man

as Bill Thorpe
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Critic Reviews for The Big Trail

All Critics (13) | Top Critics (5)

Integrating the settlers' passionate mortal conflicts into the landscape, Walsh turns the theatrical limitations of early sound technique to an advantage, composing vast, static tableaux with the mighty breadth and noble pace of epic stanzas.

Full Review… | July 15, 2013
New Yorker
Top Critic

Full Review… | May 20, 2008
Top Critic

Full Review… | February 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Full Review… | January 28, 2006
New York Times
Top Critic

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

More historical than anything, but a must for Wayne fans.

February 17, 2008
Kansas City Kansan

Audience Reviews for The Big Trail

The film version i had on blu-ray contained both the regular 35mm print at 108 minutes and the "Fox Grandeur" version filmed at 70mm and running 122 minutes. The Fox Grandeur version is certainly the way to watch it in my opinion and really showcases the vast landscapes and wide-open space of the land. While the cinematography was impressive, the film's simple narrative, wooden acting on John Wayne's part and the scope was a little ambious for what we are given in the final product. The film apparently was a financial failure as it was filmed two times and dubbed in French and German as well as the native English and the costs were substancial. The film is essential viewing I would think for John Wayne films, and while he would work on B-westerns the next nearly decade it eventually got him to the fame he would gain one day and become the star of such greats as Stagecoach and countless other A-films to come.

Chris Browning
Chris Browning

Super Reviewer


This was interesting to watch as there are 2 versions of the film. Both basically the same but limitations of cinema tech caused the film makers to shoot using 2 cameras- a early 70mm version and a 35mm version. Apparently, they would set for the 70mm and the 35mm would find a spot nearby- causing it to have at times drastically different angles than the 70mm. Another drawback was the sound recording tech- which causes a lot of the dialogue to be lost. The 35mm and 70mm also differ in shots and scenes used for the release versions as tehy were edited at the same time but apparently there was not an effort to make sure they matched shot by shot. Action/story wise its a very decent western, with a few title cards- harking to the recently then departed silent film era. JohnWayne is a rough amateur actor here, but does a good job as he keeps up with veteran character actors of that era.


John Wayne's first movie is actually two movies. There is the 70 mm wide screen and the 35 mm square screen. Since 70 mm and sound movies were both new technologies in 1929 they literally filmed this movie with two separate cameras. The complex scenes they filmed simultaneously from two separate angles. Some of the scenes had the actors perform twice for two different camera crews. This required the actors to duplicate their performance exactly the same twice. Watching the two versions is like watching a stage play twice on different days. One scene had one of the characters wearing a coat in the 70 mm version but was coatless in the 35 mm film. Other scenes the sound synched up perfectly but the camera angle was different. Towards the end of the movie John Wayne had to make a speech urging the pioneers not to turn back. Both were good and both started out the same but he started to ad-lib a little and the two versions aren't exactly the same. Due to mechanical problems with the new cameras there were some scenes in the 35 mm film that weren't in the 70 mm version and there were many scenes that were in the 70 mm version that weren't in the 35 mm version. There was a section of the 35 mm film were the travelers have to cross a desert (even though there is no desert on the Oregon Trail) but is totally left out of the 70 mm version. In the 70 mm version John Wayne's love interest is left behind and John Wayne has to go back to rescue them. This is left out of the 35 mm version. Over all the 70 mm is better but was only shown in two theaters and the rest of the country was shown the 35 mm version. In some sections the 35 mm is better. Sometimes the 70 mm is cleaner, sharper with better contrast and other times it's the 35 mm with the better photography. Overall the 70 mm version is 14 minutes longer than the 35 mm version. John Wayne played a young version of himself. You can see the John Wayne character begin his development into the character so familiar in his later movies. The story of the movie is the first wagon train to follow the Oregon Trail. They tried to make it look as accurate as possible by having oxen pull some of the wagons. They still have too many being pulled by horses and mules. In 1850 all the wagons were drawn by oxen. Also in 1850 nobody rode in the wagons. Wagons carried the food and supplies. The people walked. They wore out so many shoes the Indians would sell them moccasins along the way. They filmed the movie in 5 states but nowhere along the real Oregon Trail. In the movie there were too many trees and too many hills. For most of the movie everyone carried single shot guns, then all of the sudden in the middle of a buffalo hunt John Wayne pulls out a revolver and starts shooting. Before that all he had was a rifle. By todays standards this is a boring movie and in 1930 the places where they had to watch the 35 mm version they thought is was boring too.

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