Across the Wide Missouri (1951)

Across the Wide Missouri (1951)
 
 

Clark Gable Likes Beaver

Never saw anything like it, best beaver country in the World - Flint Mitchell

Clark Gable and María Elena Marqués in Across the Wide Missouri

Let me tell you what I think "Across the Wide Missouri" should be about, a beaver trapper whose only interest is in getting furs and when he spots an opportunity to marry the granddaughter of a Blackfoot chief does so not out of love but because it would get him on to the fur rich land of the Blackfoot people. Except the more time that the trapper spends with his Blackfoot squaw the more he loves her and in the end his love for her becomes more important that getting furs. That is what "Across the Wide Missouri" should be about and should have emotional depth as we watch this man change, but it isn't because the studios hacked "Across the Wide Missouri" to shreds. So disappointed with what the studios did to his movie that director William A. Wellman disowned it and you can appreciate why as whilst Wellman's wonderful cinematography is brilliant the story ends up disjointed punctuated with over long posed shots of Clark Gable looking handsome and smug.

Flint Mitchell (Clark Gable - Gone with the Wind) is a man who loves what he does and that is trap Beaver, he loves it so much that it is all he can think about and has no time for women even when they are beautiful like Blackfoot squaw Kamiah (María Elena Marqués). But when he learns that Kamiah is the granddaughter of Blackfoot Chief Bear Ghost (Jack Holt) and could be his passport onto Blackfoot land rich in beaver he marries her. But as Flint and Kamiah along with all his men travel across country Flint finds himself falling in love with his wife especially when she gives him a son. But whilst Kamiah's Grandfather welcomes them on to the Blackfoot land, his nephew and future Chief Ironshirt (Ricardo Montalban - The Naked Gun) does not and makes Flint his sworn enemy.

Ricardo Montalban as Ironshirt in Across the Wide Missouri

So as you can guess I'm not that impressed with the storyline to "Across the Wide Missouri" or at least how the storyline comes across because of the hatchet job done in the editing room. In fairness all the pieces of an emotional drama are there, early on we see that Flint isn't interested in Kamiah till he realises that she could be of benefit in getting him on to beaver rich land belonging to the Blackfoot. And whilst he basically buys her, not for love or anything we watch as slowly he grows fond of her especially when she has his son and as such we watch his character change slightly where his family becomes as important if not more important than getting beaver furs. But because the emotional depth of this change is lost in favour of some cliche light hearted moments such as a drunken brawl it ends up disjointed and ultimately quite dull.

It is a shame that they did take a hatchet to Wellman's vision because the cinematography is stunning, capturing not just the vast expanse but also some impressive action. In fairness it is the good camera work which ends up making some of the corny action entertaining as in the stereotypical drunken brawl between the trappers as they get together for their annual meet. And whilst those who changed the movie to frequently feature Clark Gable looking handsome on a stationary horse with the sky behind him have put far too many in they are well shot moments.

And to be totally honest whilst Clark Gable delivers a solid, handsome performance as Flint Mitchell this is not Gable at his best. Whether his more dramatic scenes were cut or what but most of the movie basically features him smiling when he is around the beautiful Kamiah. So much focus has been put on Clark Gable that the various quirky characters such as Frenchman played by Pierre Adolphe Menjou and Scotsman Capt. Humberstone Lyon played by Alan Napier seem out of place, well any western which features bagpipes and a highland jig is going to feel strange. Other than Clark Gable it is Howard Keel who you remember and the irony is that Keel only provides a narration as if he is telling his father's life story, yet because Keel's warm tones are so good they end up covering up some of the terrible editing.

What this all boils down to is that "Across the Wide Missouri" ended up very disappointing and ultimately quite dull because thanks to the editing it ends up a movie with no heart or emotional depth. The story sounds like it should be about a man who changes when he marries but that is lost and instead we get one stereotypical scene after another with very little emphasis put on depth. It is still just about averagely entertaining but it could have been so much better.

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