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The Big Trail
IMDB Rating: 7.3/10 from 2,315 votes
Release: 1 November 1930 (USA) /

The Big Trail

Genre: Adventure, Romance, Western
Director: Raoul Walsh,
Stars: , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: Breck leads a wagon train of pioneers through Indian attack, storms, deserts, swollen rivers, down cliffs and so on while looking for the murder of a trapper and falling in love with Ruth. Written by Ed Stephan <[email protected]>

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Critic Reviews


Contrary to the comment posted directly below, The Big Trail (1930) was not filmed in a three-camera process "much like the later Cinerama." That was the finale to Napoleon (1927), a different film entirely! The Big Trail was simultaneously shot in both 35mm and 70mm (Grandeur) versions, and both versions are shown on Fox Movie Channel from time to time, so it's easy to compare one with the other. The Grandeur version (broadcast in letterbox @ approximately its original 2-1 ratio) is more impressive cinematically with its wide angle panoramas, but suffers from the same problem that beset early CinemaScopes, a lack of close-ups forced upon director Raoul Walsh because of focus problems. Scenes involving individuals rather than crowds or long shots are much more effective in the standard version because the camera can move closer to the players thereby achieving a greater sense of involvement for the viewer. Watching the two versions simultaneously, one gets an accurate idea of which shots Walsh chose to shoot close-up, in the standard version, but could not, in the Grandeur version. There are also a couple sequences involving El Brendel: a shell game with Ian Keith, and some business with his wife & a jackass, which are in the Grandeur version, but missing from the standard version.

For the record, The Big Trail is the only one of three Fox Grandeur films which has survived in its original wide screen format. (The other two are Fox Movietone Follies of 1929, completely lost, and Happy Days, which survives only in standard format.) Other studios also experimented with wide film at this time, but the only other one still known to exist in both formats is The Bat Whispers, filmed in both 65mm and 35mm, and released by United Artists. Other wide films were MGM's Billy the Kid (1930) and The Great Meadow (1931), RKO's Danger Lights (1930), and WB's The Lash (1930), all of which can be seen in their standard format versions on Turner Classic Movies. WB's Kismet (1930) was also filmed both wide and standard, but seems to have completely disappeared; it is rumored to be lost.

Why did wide film fail in 1930? Theaters were reeling (pun intended) under the impact of the stock market crash of October 1929, and the spiraling costs of installing sound equipment, and so were adverse to taking on the added expense of installing additional new projection equipment and new wider screens to accommodate just a handful of films, photographed in a variety of different systems that were not even always compatible with each other. It would not be until 1953 when Fox, now Twentieth Century-Fox, would try again, and this time succeed, with the introduction of wide screen CinemaScope.

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