Western Union (1941)

93 or 95 mins | Western | 21 February 1941

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HISTORY

The film's opening title card reads "Twentieth Century-Fox Presents Zane Grey's Western Union ." Although some modern sources assert that Grey did not write a novel entitled Western Union , and claim that the film was instead based on an original story by studio writers, the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, indicate that Grey did write the novel, which was published on 20 Oct 1939, three days before his death. Both Grey's novel, his last, and the film present a fictional account of the real Edward Creighton, a Western Union engineer who helped survey and build the telegraph line from Omaha, NE to Salt Lake City, UT. A 26 Jan 1941 NYHT article commented about the film: "In 1861 it cost $212,000 to extend the telegraph from Omaha to Salt Lake City, and the crew took four months and eleven days, covering 1,100 miles, to do the job. To reproduce their feat in 1940, a company of 300 traveled 2,000 miles in ten months at a cost of more than $1,000,000."
       According to a 26 Oct 1939 HR news item, Paramount attempted to acquire rights to Grey's novel. Grey's son, Romer, reportedly revealed that before his father's death, "negotiations had been on for Gary Cooper to star in the production which [Grey] was to produce for either United Artists or RKO release." Twentieth Century-Fox obtained the rights to Grey's novel in Nov 1939 for $25,000, and according to a HR news item, the studio also purchased an original story by Ward Wing about the history of the Western ... More Less

The film's opening title card reads "Twentieth Century-Fox Presents Zane Grey's Western Union ." Although some modern sources assert that Grey did not write a novel entitled Western Union , and claim that the film was instead based on an original story by studio writers, the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, indicate that Grey did write the novel, which was published on 20 Oct 1939, three days before his death. Both Grey's novel, his last, and the film present a fictional account of the real Edward Creighton, a Western Union engineer who helped survey and build the telegraph line from Omaha, NE to Salt Lake City, UT. A 26 Jan 1941 NYHT article commented about the film: "In 1861 it cost $212,000 to extend the telegraph from Omaha to Salt Lake City, and the crew took four months and eleven days, covering 1,100 miles, to do the job. To reproduce their feat in 1940, a company of 300 traveled 2,000 miles in ten months at a cost of more than $1,000,000."
       According to a 26 Oct 1939 HR news item, Paramount attempted to acquire rights to Grey's novel. Grey's son, Romer, reportedly revealed that before his father's death, "negotiations had been on for Gary Cooper to star in the production which [Grey] was to produce for either United Artists or RKO release." Twentieth Century-Fox obtained the rights to Grey's novel in Nov 1939 for $25,000, and according to a HR news item, the studio also purchased an original story by Ward Wing about the history of the Western Union company. Apparently the studio did not intend to use Wing's material, but purchased it "to forestall any conflict with the Zane Grey yarn." A modern source states that executive producer Darryl F. Zanuck originally considered assigning Irving Pichel as the film's director. Studio legal records indicate that writers Albert Shelby LeVino , Curtis Kenyon and Kenneth Earl worked on early drafts of the film's screenplay, but the extent of their contribution to the completed picture has not been confirmed.
       A 12 Aug 1940 HR news item announcing the signing of Fritz Lang as director also noted that Brenda Joyce had been cast in the feminine lead, and Don Ameche and Lloyd Nolan had been assigned to leading roles. On 11 Sep 1940, however, HR noted that Twentieth Century-Fox was borrowing Robert Young from M-G-M to replace Ameche. Other HR news items stated that Laird Cregar would be in the cast, then announced that because he was being held up by his work in Hudson's Bay , he was to be replaced by George "Gabby" Hayes , but illness prevented Hayes from appearing in the finished film. Lucille Miller and Esther Brodelet were included in the cast by HR news items, but their participation in the completed film has not been confirmed. A HR news item also included Mary Astor in the cast, but she does not appear in the released picture. Actor Chill Wills was borrowed from M-G-M for the production.
       A 21 Oct 1940 HR news item noted that during principal photography, the film's script was sent "back to writer George Bruce with instructions to build up the part of Virginia Gilmore." The extent of Bruce's contribution to the released film has not been determined, however. The picture was largely shot on location at Kanab and Zion National National Park, UT, and House Rock Canyon, AZ. According to a 26 Sep 1940 HR news item, fourteen Native Americans traveled from Hollywood to the Kanab location because "any arrangements for use of government reservation Indians in that territory [would involve] too much 'red tape.'" A 1 Dec 1940 NYT article reported that Lang did not cast the local Piute Indians in the picture "because of their stature [which meant that] they didn't look like the customers' conception of Indians." The article stated that instead, Lang "ordered a shipment of Hollywood Indians from Central Casting--tall, high cheek-boned fellows who look like aborigines are supposed to look." According to a studio press release, Twentieth Century-Fox actor Henry Fonda, who had once worked as a lineman and in telegraph laboratories in Minneapolis, served as a technical advisor on the production.
       According to a HR news item, in Dec 1940, the studio purchased J. Hyatt Downing's novel Sioux City , intending to produce it as a "follow-up" to Western Union . Randolph Scott and Laird Cregar were to star in the picture, but it was never made. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Mar 41
p. 128.
Box Office
8 Feb 1941.
---
Daily Variety
31 Jan 41
pp. 3-4.
Film Daily
7 Feb 41
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Oct 39
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Nov 39
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Nov 39
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Aug 40
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Sep 40
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Sep 40
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Sep 40
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Sep 40
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Sep 40
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Sep 40
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Sep 40
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Sep 40
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Sep 40
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Oct 40
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Oct 40
p. 3, 6
Hollywood Reporter
25 Oct 40
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Oct 40
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 40
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Nov 40
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Nov 40
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Nov 40
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Nov 40
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Dec 40
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Dec 40
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Dec 40
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Dec 40
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jan 41
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jan 41
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Jan 41
p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily
3 Feb 1941.
---
Motion Picture Herald
8 Feb 1941.
---
New York Herald Tribune
26 Jan 1941.
---
New York Times
1 Dec 1940.
---
New York Times
26 Jan 1941.
---
New York Times
7 Feb 41
p. 23.
Variety
5 Feb 41
p. 12.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
2d unit dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Contr to dial
Contr to dial
Contr wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Asst cam
Cam tech
Asst cam tech
Cam maintenance
Cam loader
Gaffer
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Asst props
Asst props
Asst props
MUSIC
Mus dir
SOUND
Asst mixer
Stageman
Cableman
Extra cableman
VISUAL EFFECTS
Process cam
Process technician
Mechanical eff
Mechanical eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Prod mgr
Unit mgr
Asst unit mgr
Pub dir
Robert Young's riding instructor
Scr clerk
Livestock man
Key grip
Carpenter
Painter
Landscape man
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor dir
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Western Union by Zane Grey (New York, 1939).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Zane Grey's Western Union
Release Date:
21 February 1941
Premiere Information:
New York premiere: 31 January 1941
Production Date:
late September--28 November 1940
addl scenes 6 December--7 December and 13 December 1940
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
21 February 1941
Copyright Number:
LP10385
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
93 or 95
Length(in feet):
8,570
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
PCA No:
6715
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1861, Western Union engineer Edward Creighton is surveying a telegraph line when he is severely wounded in an accident. Bank robber Vance Shaw, on the run from a posse, comes upon Creighton and saves his life while eluding his pursuers. After Creighton recovers, he returns to Omaha, Nebraska, where he intends to build a telegraph line to Salt Lake City, Utah. There is much opposition to the line from Confederate soldiers, Indians and outlaws, but Creighton intends to get the job done with the help of his sister Sue, foreman Pat Grogan and assistant Homer Kettle. Unaware of Shaw's past, Grogan hires him as a scout, and Creighton allows him to stay, as Shaw has professed a desire to reform. They are joined by tenderfoot Richard Blake, a Harvard-educated engineer whom Creighton hires as a favor to Blake's father. Blake and Shaw compete for the affections of Sue, but their romantic rivalry is short-lived, for on 4 July 1861, construction of the line begins. The work is arduous, but the company makes progress until a mysterious attack, reportedly by Indians, devastates the camp. Shaw is suspicious, however, saying that he does not think Indians would be interested in their cattle, which have been stolen. Shaw leaves to investigate and follows the culprits' trail to the camp of Jack Slade, his former cohort. Slade and his gang, which Shaw quit after the bank robbery, admit to dressing as Indians to rustle the company's cattle. Unable to betray his former comrades, Shaw tells Creighton that a large band of Dakota Indians stole the cattle, and that it would be better to replace them ... +


In 1861, Western Union engineer Edward Creighton is surveying a telegraph line when he is severely wounded in an accident. Bank robber Vance Shaw, on the run from a posse, comes upon Creighton and saves his life while eluding his pursuers. After Creighton recovers, he returns to Omaha, Nebraska, where he intends to build a telegraph line to Salt Lake City, Utah. There is much opposition to the line from Confederate soldiers, Indians and outlaws, but Creighton intends to get the job done with the help of his sister Sue, foreman Pat Grogan and assistant Homer Kettle. Unaware of Shaw's past, Grogan hires him as a scout, and Creighton allows him to stay, as Shaw has professed a desire to reform. They are joined by tenderfoot Richard Blake, a Harvard-educated engineer whom Creighton hires as a favor to Blake's father. Blake and Shaw compete for the affections of Sue, but their romantic rivalry is short-lived, for on 4 July 1861, construction of the line begins. The work is arduous, but the company makes progress until a mysterious attack, reportedly by Indians, devastates the camp. Shaw is suspicious, however, saying that he does not think Indians would be interested in their cattle, which have been stolen. Shaw leaves to investigate and follows the culprits' trail to the camp of Jack Slade, his former cohort. Slade and his gang, which Shaw quit after the bank robbery, admit to dressing as Indians to rustle the company's cattle. Unable to betray his former comrades, Shaw tells Creighton that a large band of Dakota Indians stole the cattle, and that it would be better to replace them than to risk a fight. Soon after, men working on the forward line are approached by a band of drunken Indians, and the nervous Blake shoots one despite Shaw's orders to remain calm. While they are distracted by the Indians, who mean no real harm, the main camp is attacked by Slade's men, who are again disguised as Indians. The company discovers the ruse when one of the wounded "Indians" is revealed to be white, and Creighton grows suspicious of Shaw's involvement when they are forced to buy back their stolen horses from Slade, whom Shaw admits knowing. Creighton then must convince Chief Spotted Horse to allow them to build the line through Indian terrritory, even though the man Blake wounded was Spotted Horse's son. After Creighton persuades the Indians, work continues until the company is almost at Salt Lake City. Slade's men strike again, however, after luring Shaw from the camp and tying him up. Shaw escapes and returns to the company's camp, which has been nearly destroyed. Convinced of Shaw's complicity, Creighton fires him, but before he leaves, Shaw reveals to Blake that Slade is his brother. Shaw then finds Slade and his men in a nearby town and is killed in a gunfight with them. Shaw's death is avenged by Blake, who follows him and kills Slade. Soon after, the line is completed, and as Creighton and Sue celebrate, he tells her that Shaw can hear them. +

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

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