Friday, August 5, 2016

Movie Review // Westward Ho The Wagons! (1956) with Fess Parker, Kathleen Crowley, and Jeff York

So here at long last is my review for Emma and Olivia's Legends of Western Cinema Week!

The official summary: “Inspired by the trials and triumphs of the American pioneers, Westward Ho, The Wagons! is the story of a wagon train full of families heading west on the treacherous Oregon Trail. Fess Parker (TV’s Davy Crockett) stars as Doc Grayson, in charge of guiding the wagons through hostile Indian territory. After a band of Pawnees attack and steal their spare horses, Doc leads the wagons to the safety of Fort Laramie. But the Sioux who reside nearby are suspicious of the new settlers and soon a feud erupts, further endangering everyone in the fort.  Full of true grit and determination, Westward Ho, The Wagons! is an action-packed adventure that’s fun for the whole family.”

Wow. Oh dear. I hadn’t realized how very often the back of movie cases are just slightly off. I mean, they got the gist there, but if you’ve seen it… yes, not quite. Still, they’re more on than off in this instance, so I’ll let it stand. ;P

I watched this again recently while driving across Kansas, heading toward the Colorado Rockies. I had planned to do it anyway and then realized partway through how funnily applicable it was! It definitely made it all the more vivid and fun.

A classic Disney production, it was based on the book Children of the Covered Wagon by Mary Jane Carr and the script was actually written by Tom Blackburn who was also a scriptwriter for the Davy Crockett series.

Now… to give the full picture and all that right off, I’ll make my statement here and now that some of my family members are less than enamored with it and others love it (particularly my littlest sister). I’m kind of in the middle and would say I enjoy it. Yes... it’s not the most amazing acting/cinematography/costumes ever, but it’s touching and somehow still gets right to the heart of the great western venture and the pioneer spirit. 

I particularly like the man-to-man/friend interactions between Doc Grayson and the wagon train scout Hank Breckenridge (Jeff York). They’re excellent.

And David Stollery does an especially good job as young Dan Thompson. 

All in all it has an episodic feel to it. The songs/ballads are super simple, almost like children's rhymes; but -- just like those -- they stick in your head. For days. :) 

Also (in case you were interested and/or worried), it does have a cute, well balanced romance.

As far as the Indians, etc. Allowing for it’s being a family friendly film and all, I think they’re done quite fairly well. There's an attack scene with quite a bit of dust and shooting and Indians falling off horses and settlers being shot in the shoulder -- things of that nature -- but there’s no blood. It’s also taken for granted that all the members of the wagon train are Christians; what’s more, it’s even quietly and openly portrayed as a good thing, which is refreshing.

It’s a little slow in places, but for all that the tension builds. For me, I think part of that tension comes anytime children are that closely involved with physical danger. Not that these children are helpless -- they’re built of far hardier stuff than that -- but they still need to be protected. On the flip side, while it’s not a grit-and-dirt sort of film, I think they still did a good job of showing how the children (while still children) were yet thoroughly mature and experienced for their years.

As I said, the tension does build rather incredibly near the end, but it’s not scary scary. (Again, my little sister likes it and she’s most particular on that score.)

Altogether I’d say it’s a good, comfortable young family film, especially if you’re looking for one to introduce the Oregon Trail and the stories of the brave souls who set out on it – or even just to add to your collection of reliable standbys for a rainy afternoon. (Or, of course, if you ever need something appropriate to watch when driving across country. It works great for that, too.)

Tell me! Have you ever seen or heard of this one?

And... if you haven't already, do make sure to visit Olivia and Emma's blogs. They're two of the loveliest friends ever and they both have an a-m-a-z-i-n-g way with the words. :)

(Olivia and Emma, thank you so much for all the work you've done and for hosting this again! *Hugs* It's been a marvelous week!! :D)


  1. No, I've not seen this--it looks cute, though! (I really need to watch more old movies, don't I? ;-) )

  2. Yes, I've seen it. Being a huge Davy Crockett fan, and having read the book it was based off of many times as a child, it was the predicted outcome. :)

    I enjoyed it, though as you say, it isn't the most outstanding or amazing film. It is fun in a simple, quiet way. And it stars Fess Parker! It does make a great child friendly western for the little ones and is another of those old Disney films that unfortunately became quite obscure and forgotten.

    Thanks for the review, I enjoyed it!

  3. Aww, looks sweet. Eek, yes, aren't scenes in movies with children in danger so scary sometimes? Especially when the mother is there and you just....goodness. You feel for her so much. I can't imagine the awful, paralyzing fear that goes through mothers when they see their children in a life-threatening situation.

  4. Aww, this looks good! I love those "reliable standbys for a rainy afternoon". Disney does it the best :D

    And I really enjoy stories about the wagon trails (usually), so I'll have to keep an eye out for this!

  5. (ALSO. Your last little paragraph. YOU ARE SUCH A DARLING *hugs* Right back at you, friend :))

  6. I really feel like I watched this as a kid, so many years ago. The photos you posted are very familiar, and Jeff York as a pioneer -- I'm betting my library when I was a kid had it.


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