Cowhand, “The Virginian” (Gary Cooper, High Noon), and his best friend, Steve (Richard Arlen, Wings), vie for the affections of the newly-arrived school teacher, Molly Wood (Mary Brian, The Royal Family of Broadway). The ranchers also have to deal with treacherous bad guy, Trampas (Walter Huston, The Treasure of Sierra Madre), who is into cattle rustling.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Landmark western, and one of the most influential Hollywood movies. Though full of clichés, one has to remember that this movie invented most of them.
The Virginian, directed by Victor Fleming (The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind), provides the blueprint for countless of other westerns. The schoolmarm symbolizing progress, the relationship between violence and justice, etc. — all these elements have become staples of the genre. It’s creaky in places and some of the performances are still in silent mode, but in the end, however, some genuinely moving moments and a superbly staged shoot-out compensate for its imperfections.
Also, despite being an early talkie, The Virginian effectively showcased the outdoors. Today the movie may not look like much, but at the time, because of the archaic sound equipment, shooting outside a studio posed incredible challenges. You sense a certain amount of experimentation and that is interesting, at least to me.
Cooper plays the original “man with no name” and the role made him a star. He was clearly an unlikely candidate for movie stardom. Cooper’s lanky body and soft-spoken voice is not the stuff of movie legends. And, yet, there is something very special about him — you can’t take your eyes off him.
Huston plays the archetypal baddie — black heart, black hat, black mustache. Huston’s smiley villain provokes Copper to utter the famous line, “If you want to call me that, smile!” Eugene Pallette (The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Mark of Zorro) has a small role. Future movie star Randolph Scott (Rage at Dawn and Ride the High Country) is supposed to be an extra, but I didn’t see him.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
The story has been filmed many times, more famously as a long-running TV series, starring James Drury as “Virginian” and Doug McClure as Trampas. B&W, 91 minutes, Not Rated.