Wayne's a Working on the Railroad
John Wayne's "Tycoon" is an entertaining movie but it has a problem, in fact it has lots of problems because for everything which is good there is something bad. For example John Wayne starts of by playing a trademark Wayne character, decent and determined but then his character changes and we watch Wayne deliver a tougher, nastier sort of character. Now it's good to watch Wayne deliver something different but becoming almost bad, that doesn't sit comfortably. And so it goes on because for all that is good about "Tycoon" you get something bad to counterbalance it.
Hired by Alexander (Cedric Hardwicke) to build a tunnel through the mountain for the rail road, Engineer Johnny Munroe (The Fighting Seabees - John Wayne) finds himself at logger heads with his boss over safety as collapses constantly put his men's life at risk. But matters are made even more complicated when Johnny ends up falling for his daughter Maura (Laraine Day - The High and the Mighty) bringing a conflict between his personal life and business especially when Alexander tries to make Johnny's task all the more harder for taking his daughter for him.
"Tycoon" is really a movie of two halves with the first half being what you could call a typical John Wayne movie with him playing the decent and hard working construction expert. We have him doing heroics such as putting his life at risk to save men trapped in a tunnel, he's kind to young children who idolise him and he doesn't back down from a fight. Oh and of course he has an eye for a pretty lady in this case Maura the daughter of Alexander who he works for and who takes exception to Johnny trying to court his daughter. It's all very stereotypical and at times a little corny as Johnny and Maura end up watching the sun go down and sharing a picture perfect kiss. Although in a brief moment of depth we have the interesting element of Alexander seeing his daughter as his finest creation, making her sound like something he has made through giving the best education to rather than nurtured.
But this very stereotypical opening does develop into something more interesting as Johnny and Maura marry and Alexander basically disowns her but also tries to make life as hard as possible by slowing down the construction of the tunnel. As such we watch as Johnny changes from this decent guy, deeply in love to a man who will not stop till he completes the tunnel and beats Alexander, to the detriment of his marriage and friendships. It's still a little stereotypical as we watch Johnny change with him trying to love his wife and do his job but watching John Wayne start to play a character who becomes blind to everything other than succeeding is not what you expect.
And this storyline continues to evolve with Johnny becoming the total opposite of what he is; he becomes mean, angry, violent, dangerous and conceited alienating all those from Maura to his friends. And again watching John Wayne play what is essentially a bad man is entertaining although it feels wrong. When Johnny flagrantly endangers the lives of the men who work for him and callously sets of explosives near them it just doesn't feel right for Wayne to play that sort of character. He certainly plays it well and sells the element of loathing perfectly but for me it's not right.
And that is the thing about "Tycoon" is that everything which is right there is something which is wrong which in the case of the story is the almost corny romanticism which crops up early on. Then you have the stunning location shots and the tangible danger of explosions and rocks falls in the tunnels but then in the second half with various miniatures being used it starts to look fake. Even other characters have issues as Cedric Hardwicke as Alexander is brilliantly icy during the first half as he sets out to make Johnny pay for marrying Maura yet in the second half where his character is supposed to show concern; it still comes across as being icy.
And then there is Laraine Day as Maura and she has one of the most wonderfully beautiful faces, when she stares longingly at Johnny you can believe she is in love. Sadly when it comes to Johnny becoming so focussed on the tunnel and ignoring her Day doesn't deliver the spark, the hurt and aggression that the character demands. It makes you wonder what would have happened if Maureen O'Hara had been cast in the role as was originally planned as O'Hara most certainly would have delivered the fiery aspect perfectly.
What this all boils down to is that "Tycoon" is an entertaining John Wayne movie, by no means one of his best but does see him go from playing his usual good guy character into a man who becomes bad. But it is a movie which for everything which is good then has something which is bad which ends up making "Tycoon" entertaining but average.