All silent movie revviews are complete and unabridged

Starring J. Warren Kerrigan, Lois Wilson, Ernest Torrence
May 1923
Here is the biggest picture of the screen year - two hours of celluloid with a fine epic sweep. Emerson Hough wrote "The Covered Wagon" of the pioneers who packed their small belongings into a prairie schooner - and crossed the horizon into an uncharted world of strange menaces. These men and women were the maker of America.

"The Covered Wagon" has a simple love story but mainly it concerns itself with the panorama of a wagon train making its way from the outpost of civilization. Westport Landing, later destined to be Kansas City, to far off Oregon, across the plains and the Sierras. It is a tortuous passage, between hostile Indians, prairie fires, dangerous river fordings, lurking starvation and the internal dissension which always comes to humans surrounded by danger. Indeed, news of the gold strike in California turns most of the wagon train aside, to pick its way over the Rockies to California.

All this has been screened with a fine sense of the bigness of the theme. Cruze has been remarkably successful in catching the reality of his backgrounds. His wagon train is real and living, his pioneers of '49 are flesh and blood.

Photoplay wants to recommend "The Covered Wagon" without reservation. It is a big thing - in many ways the biggest thing since D.W. Griffith did "The Birth of a Nation." The acting is excellent. Lois Wilson is a real and charming heroine, J. Warren Kerrigan something more than a conventional hero. But the guide of Ernest Torrence, superb bad man of "Tol'able David," is a joy forever. And only a little behind is Tully Marshall's uncannily fine playing of an old trader of the plains.

Starring J. Warren Kerrigan, Alan Hale, Ernest Torrrence and Lois Wilson
July, 1923

This is an elemental story of a praire train in which the covered wagons move slowly westward; across the plains . . . over the mountains. . . thru the snows. . . into the desert . . . ever westward. This is a story in itself. The most chronic phlegm will disappear when the wagons and the cattle ford the deep stream; when the Indians strike from ambush; and when there is a buffalo hunt to supplant the scraped flour barrels.

And there is another story, too. Those comprising the train are human people. They know desire, greed and jealousy. But they also know in a balancing measure courage, love and dreams. Out of their despair and alternate hope, complications are born. And the old captain finds these complications threatening their pioneer purpose in as great a degree as any physical dangers.

James Cruze, the director, has blended these two stories nicely. And because he knew his story was a fundamental one, he dispensed with delicacies, camoulflage and superficialities with the result that he has given us a flash of the quick of life. Only one isssue in criticism of James Cruze and that is the spotless wagon covers at the end of the journey. They should have been torn and soiled. Instead the screen often resembled a transient Spotless Town. If the picture had been less worth while, less realistic, they might have spoiled the illusion.

With admiration for practically the entire cast, we wish to mention Ernest Torrenc first. His work, in the role of an old tobacco "chawing" bronzed, seamed pioneer; a fascinating mixture of the villain and the hero is something we will not soon forget. We liked Charles Ogle, too, as the captain of the train. But then we always like Charles Ogle, and we always wonder why he isn't more often entrusted with important portrayals. For he may be depended upon for natural, sincere work. Lois Wilson is an appealing heroine and J. Warren Kerrigan a sympathetic hero.

There has been talk of "The Covered Wagon" being as great as "The Birth of a Nation." We give it less praise than that, but we do recommend it heartily.

For more information, see "The Covered Wagon" as our "Feature of the Month"

Return to Silent Film Reviews page