Western Union is nominally one of those epic celebrations of great pioneer achievements, and its official heroes are an Eastern-bred, Harvard-trained engineer named Blake (Robert Young) and a visionary named Creighton (Dean Jagger), who dreams of a transcontinental telegraph system to unite a divided nation in the first year of the Civil War. But the film really belongs to Randolph Scott’s Vance Shaw, a reformed outlaw trying to make good as a member of the team stringing “the singing wire” across the plains. His past–which Creighton knows something of–keeps reaching out for him, so that the brightly colored fable of westward progress is almost eclipsed by the darker, personal drama of embattled character and divided loyalties.
Although this theme faintly recalls director Fritz Lang’s towering 1937 fable of injustice, You Only Live Once, we shouldn’t make too much of the affinity. Western Union was merely a studio assignment, and Lang–a passionate explorer and student of the American West–mostly concentrated on serving up lashings of period detail and atmosphere and devising spectacular set pieces. The latter include a mini-götterdämmerung of a forest fire, two strikingly composed encounters with Indians, and a climactic barbershop shootout that’s studded with Lang “touches.” The scenery is magnificent (albeit a mite mountainous for Nebraska!), the Technicolor blazes as Technicolor should, and the costuming and art direction are so evocative that the German émigré proudly received a commendation from an old timers’ association praising the accuracy of his frontier re-creation. –Richard T. Jameson
Rating: (out of 3 reviews)
List Price: $ 39.98
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