Across the Wide Missouri (1951)    0 Stars

“A year in the making! Thousands in the cast!” 

Across the Wide Missouri (1951)
Across the Wide Missouri (1951)


Director: William Wellman

Cast: Clark Gable, Ricardo Montalban, John Hodiak

Synopsis: Trapper Flint Mitchell and other mountain men from the Rendezvous join forces to enter virgin trapping territory but must contend with a resentful Blackfoot chief.






Although Across the Wide Missouri comes across today as somewhat disjointed and episodic, it’s survived the injudicious pre-release editing imposed on it by the executives at MGM quite well to provide a forgiving viewer with an acceptable tale containing colourful characters and breath-taking location cinematography.

Clark Gable (Dancing Lady, Band of Angels) plays pioneering beaver trapper Flint Mitchell. As his name suggests, he’s a rugged, no-nonsense type who’s afraid of no man.   He takes an Indian squaw (María Elena Marqués) for his wife, and although neither of them speaks the other’s language, a close and abiding relationship is quickly established.   All would be right with the world if it wasn’t for the antagonistic relationship between Mitchell and Indian chief Ironshirt (a buff Ricardo Montalban – Mystery Street), one of whose braves Mitchell killed when being hunted down by Ironshirt’s tribe.

It’s clear that there were high hopes for this movie when it was conceived.   The sprawling location photography complements the film’s epic subject matter which is played out by a cast that’s considerably larger than you’d expect from a 78-minute movie.   It’s obvious, though, that much of the story’s coherence was lost when the film was cut, which is why so much of it is narrated by Howard Keel, and why it has such an episodic feel and so many of the secondary characters feel under-developed.

As you’d expect, Gable gives a typically polished and professional performance. He’s a little too old for the role, perhaps, but personifies the pioneering spirit of his character with aplomb, and despite the age difference, creates a believable chemistry with his co-star Maria Elena Marques, an established Mexican actress whose sole attempt at breaking into Hollywood this was to be.   He’s ably supported by an accomplished supporting cast which includes Adolphe Menjou (A Woman of Paris, A Star is Born), J. Carroll Naish (‘Gung Ho!’, Rio Grande) and John Hodiak (Lifeboat).   Perhaps the only thing that prevents the film from maintaining the action-filled pace the producers were probably hoping for when they went to work in the editing suite is the fact that all of the conversations between Gable and his screen wife have to be translated by one of the other characters.

(Reviewed 22nd March 2012)

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