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HISTORY

On 7 Jan 1930, FD announced that Fox Film Corp. would produce The Oregon Trail, directed by Raoul Walsh. The 3 Feb 1930 FD reported that 20,000 background actors would be employed for the production, which was expected to last six months. The story was based on Francis Parkman, Jr.’s 1849 book, The California and Oregon Trail: being sketches of Prairie and Rocky Mountain Life.
       According to the 1 Mar 1930 Motion Picture News and Exhibitors Herlad-World, filming was set to take place in Baker County, OR, at the urging of Oregon’s Governor Norblad, who reportedly petitioned Fox to use locations in his state. Although the production travelled to several states for filming, the company did not film sequences in OR. The 19 Apr 1930 Motion Picture News listed locations planned for UT, NM, WY, NV, and CA, and reported a $1.3 million budget. The picture was to be filmed in both 35mm and Grandeur, Fox’s new 70mm widescreen format.
       On 20 Apr 1930, FD announced that Raoul Walsh had hired an unknown background actor named John Wayne, formerly known as Wayne Morrison, for the lead role. The 26 Apr 1930 Hollywood Filmograph explained that after eighty-two unsuccessful screen tests for the character “Breck Coleman,” Walsh spotted Wayne while he was working as a property assistant on the Fox lot, and recruited him to audition while personally instructing him on his lines. The picture had cast ninety-three actors with speaking roles, reportedly the largest ever to be engaged in one film, at that time.
       By 10 Apr 1930, George Brent ... More Less

On 7 Jan 1930, FD announced that Fox Film Corp. would produce The Oregon Trail, directed by Raoul Walsh. The 3 Feb 1930 FD reported that 20,000 background actors would be employed for the production, which was expected to last six months. The story was based on Francis Parkman, Jr.’s 1849 book, The California and Oregon Trail: being sketches of Prairie and Rocky Mountain Life.
       According to the 1 Mar 1930 Motion Picture News and Exhibitors Herlad-World, filming was set to take place in Baker County, OR, at the urging of Oregon’s Governor Norblad, who reportedly petitioned Fox to use locations in his state. Although the production travelled to several states for filming, the company did not film sequences in OR. The 19 Apr 1930 Motion Picture News listed locations planned for UT, NM, WY, NV, and CA, and reported a $1.3 million budget. The picture was to be filmed in both 35mm and Grandeur, Fox’s new 70mm widescreen format.
       On 20 Apr 1930, FD announced that Raoul Walsh had hired an unknown background actor named John Wayne, formerly known as Wayne Morrison, for the lead role. The 26 Apr 1930 Hollywood Filmograph explained that after eighty-two unsuccessful screen tests for the character “Breck Coleman,” Walsh spotted Wayne while he was working as a property assistant on the Fox lot, and recruited him to audition while personally instructing him on his lines. The picture had cast ninety-three actors with speaking roles, reportedly the largest ever to be engaged in one film, at that time.
       By 10 Apr 1930, George Brent had been cast, according to that day’s FD, but he was not credited in the final film. The 19 Apr 1930 Hollywood Filmograph reported that two youths cast for the film, Dorothy Gray and Billy Butts, had to withdraw due to scheduling conflicts. They were replaced by Andy Shufford and Helen Parrish. Jean Stoddard was also added to the cast. Walsh’s wife, Lorraine Walker, was supposed to appear in the film, which was now referred to as The Big Trail in the 8 May 1930 FD.
       According to the Nov 1930 International Photographer, the crew departed Hollywood on 19 Apr 1930 to begin location filming in several states, with the majority of scenes taking place near Jackson Hole, WY, and in Yellowstone National Park.
       The 17 May 1930 Motion Picture News noted that the company was currently on location in Yuma, AZ, and announced a $1.3 million budget, which was expected to increase. Production crews numbered over 100, including thirty-two “stock men” to care for “437 horses and 1,500 head of cattle.”
       The Sep 1930 AmCin indicated that nine or ten cameras were used for filming, including Mitchell and Androit movie cameras with both standard 35mm and 70mm lenses. Each scene was reportedly shot twice, in both gauges, using standard Eastman Type Two Panchromatic film.
       The 27 May 1930 FD stated that The Big Trail was one of ten features released by Fox’s “Outdoor Romance Department” for the 1930-1931 season, and would be filmed entirely “out-of-doors.”
       The 31 May 1930 Motion Picture News stated that the company was currently underway in Moran, WY, with a company numbering 12,000 men, women, and children. The budget was predicted to exceed $2 million before the film’s expected Aug 1930 completion. By 25 Jul 1930, the crew had returned to Fox’s Movietone City, in Century City, CA, after several months of location filming, according to that day’s FD. The last scenes of a buffalo stamped were reportedly shot in Moiese, MT. One month later, however, the 25 Aug 1930 FD published a production diary by Raoul Walsh on location in Bakersfield, CA. According to an entry dated 24 Jul 1930, Walsh would soon head to Big Tree Country in Mariposa, CA, to film the final sequences of The Big Trail. He stated that the Valley of Dreams location had marked the end of the trail for the real-life, original pioneers. Anticipating ten more days of shooting, Walsh asserted that “not a foot of film [was] shot within hundreds of miles” of Hollywood studios.
       Production continued, with the 6 Aug 1930 Var announcing that Walsh and crew were currently filming at Sequoia National Park in CA. The company would move to the Grand Canyon in AZ the following week. That site marked the company’s tenth location in the shoot, which included the states of Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, California, Colorado, and Missouri. The film was still in production as of mid-Aug 1930, as indicated in the 16 Aug 1930 Motion Picture News.
       By 6 Sep 1930, the picture was being edited, according to that day’s Exhibitors Herald-World. The 17 Sep 1930 Var listed Mike Boylan as editor, but he was not credited onscreen or in reviews.
       Although the 31 May 1930 Motion Picture News stated that a late-Aug 1930 opening was booked at the Roxy Theatre in New York City, the film was not completed in time, and the 10 Sep 1930 Var announced a premiere on 2 Oct 1930 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. The film would screen in 70mm Grandeur. New York’s Roxy Theatre opening, also in Grandeur, was delayed until 24 Oct 1930, as stated in the 29 Oct 1930 Var.
       The 24 Sep 1930 Var reported that Walsh’s production logs were to be published as a book and serialized in newspapers. Fox was preparing to make several foreign productions of the picture. Forgoing their policy to create only Spanish versions, productions of The Big Trail in French, German, and Italian were also underway. For additional information on these pictures, see entry for La gran jornada.
       Reviews were mostly favorable. The 12 Oct 1930 FD deemed the picture “stupendous” and “awe-inspiring.” The 29 Oct 1930 Var review, which noted production costs exceeding $2 million, praised Walsh’s “elegantly directed” epic, but complained about the cast of mostly unknown elderly actors, with the exception of Wayne and Churchill. The plot was also criticize for being repetitive and showcasing “just the moving caravan, going ahead at 10 miles a day” of a 2,000 mile journey.
       The Grandeur version (70mm print) was listed as 14,200 feet, while the Standard version (35mm print) was 11,314 feet.
       The 35mm film print for The Big Trail was fully restored by The Film Foundation, an organization founded in 1990 by director Martin Scorsese. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Sep 1930
pp. 8-9, 12, 21, 26.
Exhibitors Herald-World
1 Mar 1930
p. 26.
Exhibitors Herald-World
30 Aug 1930
pp. 8-9.
Exhibitors Herald-World
6 Sep 1930
p. 44.
Exhibitors Herald-World
27 Sep 1930
p. 43.
Film Daily
7 Jan 1930
p. 4.
Film Daily
3 Feb 1930
p. 8.
Film Daily
9 Apr 1930
p. 5.
Film Daily
10 Apr 1930
p. 6.
Film Daily
20 Apr 1930
p. 5.
Film Daily
8 May 1930
p. 6.
Film Daily
18 May 1930
p. 4.
Film Daily
27 May 1930
p. 72.
Film Daily
25 Jul 1930
p. 11.
Film Daily
5 Aug 1930
p. 6.
Film Daily
26 Aug 1930
p. 2.
Film Daily
12 Oct 1930
p. 15.
Hollywood Filmograph
19 Apr 1930
p. 8, 31.
Hollywood Filmograph
26 Apr 1930
p. 21.
Life
14 Nov 1930
p. 18.
Motion Picture News
1 Mar 1930
p. 31.
Motion Picture News
19 Apr 1930
p. 33.
Motion Picture News
17 May 1930
p. 34-B.
Motion Picture News
31 May 1930
p. 96.
Motion Picture News
12 Jul 1930
p. 15.
Motion Picture News
19 Jul 1930
p. 21, 51.
Motion Picture News
16 Aug 1930
p. 45.
New York Times
25 Oct 1930
p. 20.
New Yorker
1 Nov 1930
p. 70.
Photoplay
30 Nov 1930
p. 52.
Picture-Play Magazine
Apr 1930
p. 3.
The International Photographer
Nov 1930
pp. 24-25.
Time
30 Oct 1930
p. 26.
Variety
9 Jul 1930
p. 15.
Variety
30 Jul 1930
p. 32.
Variety
6 Aug 1930
p. 17, 28.
Variety
10 Sep 1930
p. 10.
Variety
17 Sep 1930
p. 26.
Variety
24 Sep 1930
p. 12, 63.
Variety
8 Oct 1930
p. 28.
Variety
29 Oct 1930
p. 17, 27, 54, 58.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Raoul Walsh Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Grandeur cam
Grandeur cam
Grandeur cam
Grandeur cam
Grandeur cam
Grandeur cam
Grandeur cam
Stills
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
Master of ward
MUSIC
Incidental mus
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Prod mgr
Props
Ch tech
Ch carpenter
Ch elec
Bus mgr
Bus mgr
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book The California and Oregon Trail: being sketches of Prairie and Rocky Mountain Life by Francis Parkman, Jr. (New York, 1849).
SONGS
"Song of the Big Trail," words by Joseph McCarthy, music by James F. Hanley
"When It's Harvest Time in Peaceful Valley," words and music by Robert Martin and Ray McKee.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Oregon Trail
Release Date:
1 November 1930
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 24 October 1930
Production Date:
late-April--August 1930
Copyright Claimant:
Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
30 September 1930
Copyright Number:
LP1683
Physical Properties:
Sound
Movietone
Black and White
gauge
35mm
gauge
70mm (Grandeur)
Duration(in mins):
125
Length(in reels):
13-14
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

A wagon train of eastern pioneers leaves from Westport, Mississippi, to travel the Oregon Trail and to extend the boundaries of the American Republic to the Pacific Northwest. Their leader is scout Breck Coleman, who has pledged to avenge the death of a trapper friend. En route, the travelers experience a buffalo hunt, the threacherous fording of a river, a snowstorm, an Indian attack on the wagons, and the lowering of wagons, cattle, women, and children over a mountainside to pick up the trail to the West. Breck is enamored of Ruth Cameron, though he almost loses her to Bill Thorpe, and gradually establishes that Red Flack is the murderer of his friend. Thorpe, under Red's influence, tries to kill Breck but is himself shot. After reaching the Oregon country, Breck sets out in a snowstorm to avenge his pal's death and ultimately brings the villain to his ... +


A wagon train of eastern pioneers leaves from Westport, Mississippi, to travel the Oregon Trail and to extend the boundaries of the American Republic to the Pacific Northwest. Their leader is scout Breck Coleman, who has pledged to avenge the death of a trapper friend. En route, the travelers experience a buffalo hunt, the threacherous fording of a river, a snowstorm, an Indian attack on the wagons, and the lowering of wagons, cattle, women, and children over a mountainside to pick up the trail to the West. Breck is enamored of Ruth Cameron, though he almost loses her to Bill Thorpe, and gradually establishes that Red Flack is the murderer of his friend. Thorpe, under Red's influence, tries to kill Breck but is himself shot. After reaching the Oregon country, Breck sets out in a snowstorm to avenge his pal's death and ultimately brings the villain to his end. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.