T. it.: Il grande sentiero. Sog.: Hal G. Evarts. Scen.: Jack Peabody, Marie Boyle, Florence Postal. F.: Lucien Andriot, Don Anderson, Bill McDonald, Roger Sherman, Bobby Mack, Henry Pollack. [Grandeur camera: Arthur Edeson, Dave Ragin, Sol Halprin, Curt Fetters, Max Cohn, Harry Smith, Lou Kunkel, Harry Dawe]. Mo.: Jack Dennis. Scgf.: Harold Miles, Fred Sersen. Mu.: Arthur Kay. Su.: Donald Flick, George Leverett. Int.: John Wayne (Breck Coleman), Marguerite Churchill (Ruth Cameron), El Brendel (Gus), Tully Marshall (Zeke), Tyrone Power Sr. (Red Flack), David Rollins (Dave Cameron), Frederick Burton (Pa Bascom), Ian Keith (Bill Thorpe), Charles Stevens (Lopez), Louise Carver (la suocera di Gus), Russ Powell (Windy Bill), William V. Mong (Wellmore), Dodo Newton (Abigail), Ward Bond (Sid Bascom). Prod.: Fox Film Corporation. Pri. pro.: 2 ottobre 1930 35mm. D.: 122’ a 24 f/s. Bn.
Surely one of the most serendipitous moments in film history came when Raoul Walsh was assigned to The Big Trail, the first outdoor epic to be photographed in Fox’s 70mm Grandeur process. For Walsh, who had been developing (at least since The Lucky Lady in 1926) a distinctive mise-en-scène based on contrasting foreground and background action, as well as an elaborate choreography of actors and extras entering and leaving the frame, the Grandeur process, with its widescreen image and vast depth of field, must have seemed custom made for him. Walsh seems immediately to seize all of the possibilities of the widescreen format, creating a continuous sense of movement with the frames that makes the action (and the world of the movie) extend even further beyond the edges of the already extended screen, and there are many shots which, anticipating Jacques Tati’s Playtime by thirty-seven years, multiple focal points are used to lead the viewer’s eye through vast compositions, shifting our attention without the use of cutting. The film’s most spectacular sequence, in which ropes and pulleys are used to lower an entire wagon train over a mountainside and down into a valley, anticipates the Bazinian unities of time and action, capturing the beginning, middle and end of an unfolding event in a single, extended shot. The film is also perhaps the first of Walsh’s ‘map movies’, a format he would return to in the 40s and 50s for works like Desperate Journey, Objective, Burma!, and Distant Drums, in which the existential objective is to move a group of men from point x to point y, with all of the attendant dangers in between. In The Big Trail, of course, this movement is nothing less than the settling of the American West, here realized with a scale and immediacy that remains unique in the cinema. In Jacques Lourcelles’ words, Walsh’s pioneers are “pushed toward the horizon line by an instinctive, telluric force. The obey a law of the same order of those that dictate the tides of the sea, the migration of birds and the movement of the stars”. Mention should also be made of the film’s shy young lead, a Fox prop man named Marion Morrison whom Walsh found promising and renamed John Wayne.