- Directed by Tenny Wright
- March 18, 1933
With local Native Americans attacking wagons hauling supplies, an army scout is sent in to make sure that the telegraph gets to the territory and connects the East with the territories in the West.
One of the main thrusts of The Telegraph Trail is that technological advancement is good. A lot of praise of what the telegraph can do such as unite the territory as well as bring further advancement into the area. This was made in an era when the future looked bright and science would make everything better.
The story starts off as a romantic comedy with a twist on the mistaken identity thing. John Wayne plays army scout John Trent (paired with Duke the Wonder Horse). When his eventual love interest Alice (Marceline Day) sees his picture in her Uncle Zeke’s (Otis “Happy of the Seven Dwarfs” Harlan) shop in order to get out of marrying local scumbag Gus Lynch (Albert J. Smith) she makes up a story only to have John waltz in a few minutes later while on his mission. Oops!
Unbeknownst to all Lynch has been tricking the local Native Americans into raiding supply transports coming through via a partnership with Chief High Wolf (Yakima Canutt) after which Lynch re-sells the goods back to the local general store (Zeke) under the pretense that only his supply trains get through. A few times might work but after a little bit even the biggest dullard would figure it out. Plus there is absolutely no indication he even looks like he is pretending to have the resources to transport anything. But then again this is a fluffy bit of Western story so don’t think too hard.
In The Telegraph Trail we have alcoholic sidekicks and humorous tales of womanizing on the part of John’s sidekick Corporal Tippy (Frank McHugh). What a difference 90 years makes! Zeke and Tippy would not fly today. Thems was simpler times.
Alice is a little more important to the story than most women in movies of the era. She at least provides information that puts John on the correct path to ending the troubles in the territory. After that though she succumbs to his dashing good looks. In another unusual element for the time she is clearly the one in charge in the relationship.
The plan by Lynch is a little interesting but a little shortsighted. How does he plan on keeping this going in the long-term? He can keep stealing and reselling for only so long before the military shows up in large numbers. He sounds like he wants to do it indefinitely but that is just not possible. I know I am overthinking something meant as escapist but you need plausibility in a fictional universe.
Lynch is not a scene chewing villain but more of a serious jerk. Though what he is doing is underhanded he is not dastardly. Murder is clearly involved in his scheme but he does not seem dangerous enough for that.
There is a hint of the more familiar Wayne in his portrayal of John Trent. Waynee has the measured speech designed to show his character means business. But missing is that stern look or slow cowboy walk meant for toughness.
The Telegraph Trail is a short film and pretty breezy. There are no quiet moments or serious dead spots. The characters themselves are a bit two dimensional but as an adventurous romantic film you might be able to let that slide. They’re not ridiculously blank slates but they are on the shallow side.
On the whole though The Telegraph Trail is an entertaining movie. For the general moviegoer-especially people who are more familiar with modern films-this is probably something they can pass up. For the Wayne fan they might find enough to enjoy and should give it a look.