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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2017 by Carl Bennett
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Covered Wagon



Who can explain what makes a film great and what keeps a film from being great? Sometimes a film has a huge reputation simply because the film’s producers mounted it as an epic. The Covered Wagon (1923) is both an epic and an average film. Epic in its mounting, the film was largely shot on-location in Utah and Nevada, with as many as 3000 extras and what appears to be at least 100 or more Conestoga wagons. Yet when the film plays out its story of pioneer hardships, power struggles and love triangles, The Covered Wagon is not much more than a large-scale Western programmer. That being said, The Covered Wagon was a very successful film in 1923, and led to other big-budget Westerns such as John Ford’s The Iron Horse (1924).

The film remains a pleasing diversion today, in large part due to the performances of character actors Alan Hale, Ernest Torrance and Tully Marshall. Male lead J. Warren Kerrigan makes a somewhat ridiculous-looking hero, with his paunchy stomach and overdone (even for 1923) eye makeup, but he does his job on-screen and can be overlooked for other cast members. Kerrigan’s former costar Lois Wilson turns in a journeyman performance in a role originally intended for Mary Miles Minter. Director James Cruze reaches the pinnacle of his career with this daunting project, taking care of the large picture while paying attention to little details. — Carl Bennett
coverParamount Pictures Home Video
1987 VHS edition

The Covered Wagon (1923), black & white, 98 minutes, not rated.

Paramount Pictures Home Video, 2501.
VHS videotape, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (333 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan NTSC format, SP, Hi-Fi Dolby Stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language intertitles; $29.95.
Release date: 25 January 1995 [reissue].
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): content: 6 / video: 8 / audio: 7 / overall: 7.
The stars of this videotape edition of The Covered Wagon are the film materials used for the video transfer and Gaylord Carter’s entertaining and enhancing performance on a Wurlitzer theater organ. Recorded digitally, the organ soundtrack plays well in stereo hi-fi on VHS and sounds even better on the now out-of-print laserdisc edition.

About 80 percent of the materials used for the video transfer appear to be from the original negative, with the remainder taken from what appears to be only a good quality 16mm reduction print. However, when the 35mm footage runs, the viewer can see wonderful, detailed images, with clarity and broad tonal ranges, that can only come from an original 35mm negative.

While we are not big fans of Kerrigan or the run-of-the-mill story, we still enjoy taking in the performances of Torrance, Hale and Marshall (and organist Carter), and seeing sharp images similar to those seen by first-run audiences in 1923. We recommend this edition of The Covered Wagon until released on Blu-ray Disc and/or DVD.

USA: Click the logomark to purchase this NTSC VHS videotape edition from Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this NTSC VHS videotape edition from Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Other WESTERN FILMS of the silent era available on home video.
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