Western Union (film)

Western Union (film)

name = Western Union

director = Fritz Lang
writer = Robert Carson (screenplay),
Zane Grey (novel)
starring = Robert Young
Randolph Scott
Dean Jagger
Barton MacLane
Virginia Gilmore|

producer = Harry Joe Brown
distributor = Twentieth Century Fox
released = February 21, 1941
runtime = 90 min
language = English
imdb_id = 0034384

"Western Union" is a 1941 western feature film directed by Fritz Lang. Filmed in Technicolor on location in Arizona and Utah, "Western Union" tells the story of a reformed outlaw named Vance Shaw who tries to make good by joining the team wiring the Great Plains for telegraph service in 1861. Edward Creighton is the man in charge of the operation, and Richard Blake is an easterner who is also part of the team. Sue Creighton, Edward's sister, becomes the object of both Blake's and Shaw's affections. In addition to the love-triangle, conflicts arise between Shaw and his former gang, as well as between the team stringing the wires and the Native Americans through whose land the new lines must run. In this regard, the film is not historically accurate; the installation of telegraph wires was met with protest from no one.1

The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Zane Grey, although there are significant differences between the two plots.2

"Western Union" was only the second western made by Lang: "The Return of Frank James" being the first in 1940. Both movies explore the conflicts and obstacles of former criminals trying to return to law-abiding society. And both films were complicated by the Hays Code which stipulated strict moral conduct in films at the time.

Principal cast

*Robert Young - Richard Blake
*Randolph Scott - Vance Shaw
*Dean Jagger - Edward Creighton
*Virginia Gilmore - Sue Creighton
*John Carradine - Doc Murdoch
*Barton MacLane - Jack Slade
*Russell Hicks - Provisional Governor of the Territory of Nebraska
*Slim Summerville - Cookie
*Chill Wills - Homer Kettle
*Victor Kilian - Charlie

Plot summary

The year is 1861. The movie opens with Vance Shaw on horseback riding away from men who are chasing him. Shaw’s horse becomes injured in the process and Shaw is forced to continue on foot. He meets up with another man and decides to steal his horse, but changes him mind when he sees the man is hurt. He takes the man for help and leaves. It is then revealed that the injured man is Edward Creighton, there to lead the installation of telegraph lines. Another man in the Western Union company is an easterner named Richard Blake.

Later, Creighton is hiring a team to do the line work and Shaw applies. While Creighton has his suspicions about Shaw, he hires him anyway.

After the line work starts, one of the men on the team is killed by Indians. Shaw rides away to find the killers and discovers that not only are they white men disguised as Indians, but also former friends of Shaw’s. The group’s leader, Jack Slade, tells Shaw they are working for the Confederates to disrupt Western Union because they believe the telegraph service will help the Union. Shaw rides away.

The Western Union men are again attacked by Indians. Shaw tries to quell the conflict but fights with one Indian who tries to steal equipment. The Indian is shot and wounded by Richard Blake. The Western Union men get word that their main camp is under attack. While they rush back to help with the defense, the Indians steal their horses and leave.

The Army arrives and announces that, because of the shooting by Blake, the Indians have refused to allow the telegraph lines to go through their territory. Creighton, with Shaw and Blake, go out to meet with the Indians and persuade them to change their minds.

Shaw receives word that Jack Slade wants to meet with him. On the way to see Slade, Shaw is captured and bound by Slade’s men. Slade says his group is going to burn down the Western Union camp and they don’t want Shaw to interfere. After Slade and his men ride off, Shaw escapes from his ropes but arrives back too late to prevent the fire. He helps rescue some of the Western Union men from the flames and burns his hands in the process.

After the fire, Creighton confronts Shaw for an explanation. Shaw won’t say what he knows and is fired by Creighton. As Shaw leaves the camp, he tells Blake that Slade is actually Shaw’s brother and that he, Shaw, will find Slade’s gang and stop them from interfering with the telegraph project.

Shaw rides to town to locate Slade and finds him, with his gang, at the barber shop. Shaw confronts his brother, whose gun is concealed under the barber’s sheet. Slade shoots Shaw through the sheet. Shaw fights back in spite of his wound, kills some of the gang members, then dies himself. Richard Blake arrives to continue the fight against Slade. Blake runs out of bullets, but Slade dies from his wounds.

The Western Union men celebrate the completion of the telegraph line installation and Sue Creighton, Edward’s sister, laments the absence of Vance Shaw.

Critical response

*”Any way you take it, “Western Union” is spectacular screen entertainment...” 3
*"So, too, are the actors' performances of superior quality."4
*”...it rolls excitingly along with hard-riding, hard-shooting outdoor action, a blistering fire sequence and finally a beautiful pistol duel which is prefaced by some breathless suspense.” 5

External links


*1 Everson, William K. "The Hollywood Western". Citadel Press, 1992. ISBN 0-8065-1256-3
*2Armour, Robert A. "Fritz Lang". Twayne Publishers, 1978. ISBN 0-8057-9259-7
*3,4Bosley Crowther, " The New York Times", February 7, 1941
*5Bosley Crowther, "The New York Times", February 9, 1941.

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