Wayne Walks into a Land War

John Wayne and Vera Ralston in Dakota (1945)

After John Devlin (John Wayne) elopes with Sandra "Sandy" Poli (Vera Ralston), the daughter of a railroad tycoon, they head out by train towards Dakota knowing that the railroad will be going that way and so plan to buy up land options to sell on at a profit. But on their way there they find themselves riding a train with Jim Bender (Ward Bond) and Bigtree Collins (Mike Mazurki) who basically own the town of Fargo and will stoop to any means to protect their empire, including torching the properties of the farmers and blaming it on native Indians. When further on in their journey a couple of henchmen working for Bender steal John and Sandy's nest egg it leads to John siding with the farmers in a land war and Bender getting even dirtier in trying to get rid of Devlin.

By 1945 John Wayne was a big movie star having spent many a year working in the b-movies before finally getting his big break. But whilst John Wayne went on to be arguably the biggest movie star ever director Joseph Kane was another matter, never really making a movie which stood out from the crowd but he made many of the sort of b-movie westerns which John Wayne cut his teeth on. And that quickly sums up the issue with "Dakota" a western which had some star power but ended up feeling like a b-movie due to director Joseph Kane never really allowing the story to work.

Ward Bond in Dakota (1945)

As such what "Dakota" ends up is a series of what feel quickly and cheaply made scenes many of which seem to have an unnecessary comedic ending which makes this western often come across as daft. Not that I am saying that "Dakota" had great potential as a story about crooked businessmen using dirty tactics to own land and then a stranger coming to town fighting for the good guys is as cliche as they come. But the way it is treated here it is as if it was a move of first takes, shot in a studio with a projected back drop and with some of the actors delivering tongue in cheek performances to make their characters more of a caricature.

What this all boils down to is that "Dakota" ends up a mismatch for me as whilst the storyline is nothing special you had a star on the rise but a director who had become so use to knocking out movies on the quick that he is unable to grasp the opportunity to make something more.

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