Don't let the fluffy title and cover fool you. Westward the Women is a tough, gritty little film.
Cattle baron Roy Whitman (John McIntire) feels bad for his men, working way out west with no women around. His solution? Go to Chicago and recruit 140 girls willing to endure the arduous 2,000-mile trek and become wives.
He hires seasoned old friend Buck Wyatt (Robert Taylor) to lead the wagon train back. Buck’s skeptical, of course. Not only does he appear to be contemptuous of women in general, he believes a lot of them won’t actually survive the journey. Despite Buck warning them of the potential dangers they'll face, none of the women are dissuaded from making the trip.
A majority of Westward the Women centers on the journey itself, which is indeed fraught with peril…floods, Indian attacks, accidents, abandonment and sexual assault from hired hands. Buck initially appears to be an unsympathetic taskmaster, fully expecting the women to ride, work, shoot and defend themselves. But he’s also fiercely protective, such as when he shoots and kills one of his own men for assaulting one of them.
|When Punch Buggy gets real.|
True to Buck’s warning, many of them do die. In fact, the overall tone of the entire film is pretty somber, with one life-threatening crisis after another. At no point does the film glamorize the old west or those living in it. Even the obligatory romantic subplot involving Buck and amorous showgirl Fifi Danon (Denise Darcel) is more combative than cloying.
I wouldn’t rank Westward the Women among the classics of the genre, but thematically, it has enough unique qualities to set it apart from other westerns of the time. With comparatively subdued performances and authentic attempts at realism (especially regarding its many female characters), this film is an interesting little curio…and pretty enjoyable, too.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Scott Eyman
VINTAGE PROMOTIONAL FEATURETTE
2 TOM & JERRY CARTOONS - “Texas Ton” & “The Duck Doctor.”
LUX RADIO THEATER BROADCAST - From December 1952.