- Directed by Joseph Kane
- December 25, 1945
Two crooked businessmen oppose local wheat farmers and railroad development in order to control exotic Fargo until a smalltime gambler gets in their way.
Dakota is a simple piece of comedic Western fluff starring John Wayne as gambler John Devlin. It is an entertaining romp if you are looking for nothing too deep. Like many lighter Westerns of the time it mixes in laughs with some serious stuff. For example several people get brutally killed in this movie.
Devlin is a small-time gambler who has married Sandy Poli (Vera Ralston), daughter of railroad millionaire Marko Poli (Hugo Haas). Father Poli does not take kindly to this gambler marrying his daughter and his efforts to keep them apart is what causes them to run West.
John and Sandy escape to the Dakota Territory through what amounts to trickery on the part of Sandy. John wants to go to California where apparently the excitement is, but Sandy sees a more stable future in Dakota. That is a bit of a hallmark of Ralston’s character in this film. Devlin tasks her with something and she does what she thinks is better and then asks him not to be mad.
We get some of the usual John Wayne costars in here. For example what is an early Wayne film without Walter Brennan? Here he is cast as Capt. Bounce who is in charge of the boat the Riverbird. Ward Bond is the villainous Jim Bender. Paul Fix shows up as Carp.
Mike Mazurki shows up as the other villain Bigtree Collins. Mazurki was not a Wayne film regular but is noteworthy to me because he showed up in Dick Tracy (1945) as Splitface as well as showing up 45 years later in, well, Dick Tracy as Old Man in hotel. I just think that is a cool connection. The man did have a long and varied career.
Unfortunately we also get a racist African-American character that was thought comedic at the time. Nicodemus Stewart plays Capt. Bounce’s employee Nicodemus. He is a foolish and dimwitted character that was a racial stereotype of the time. He is childish and exists for purely for laughs and does nothing for the story.
One thing that caught me was in the opening credits a mention of special effects. It piqued my interest on what they were talking about so I kept an eye out. I soon realized there was a heavy use of miniatures in this movie. The shot of the opening estate is one of them. There are also several shots from a distance of a riverboat along with a handful of other things. The riverboat is the most obvious one but the rest I think would go unnoticed if I had not been looking for them. That is a credit to the filmmakers of the time.
The whole plot by the film’s villain is basically a land scheme to get money from the railroad that Sally’s father is going to be building through Fargo. A pretty standard plot of Western films. It allowed for a straightforward good versus evil narrative especially in simpler stuff. I did not put this in for something sophisticated so no big deal.
I think Dakota could have been just a little better if it was more comedic in its execution and skipped the darker elements. There are genuine laughs and genuine chuckles in this movie. The feeling you get from them though gets negated when people get shot and the characters get all serious.
Dakota is a light little piece of fluff that will keep you entertained from beginning to end. It is a must see for John Wayne fans but for Western and general movie fans it is an if you want. As with any John Wayne movie though you should want.