Another John Wayne cowboy movie review of the 1930’s

This time…

Poster for The Telegraph Trail

The Telegraph Trail 1933

Warner Bros, Dir: Tenny Wright, b/w, 54m
Cast: John Wayne, Frank McHugh, Marceline Day, Otis Harlan, Albert J. Smith, Yakima Cannutt

Upon firing up this movie on my PC I was somewhat surprised to note that everyone was talking in German.

For a split second I thought maybe I’d accidentally stumbled across a long-lost Teutonic Western directed by Leni Riefenstahl, but alas it was not to be. Alas because it’s yet another Leon Schlesinger produced oater so I know instinctively it’s not exactly going to be a masterpiece of the genre.

As an experiment and a change of pace, however, I thought it might be fun and throw caution to the wind and attempt to review a John Wayne Western that’s been dubbed into German. I mean, it can only improve the viewing experience, right?

Jonesy telegraphs the nearby army fort that the telegraph camp is under attack from “rote Indianer”, and that “outrages in the section are all due to a white man called –“, then Jonesy cops it before he can reveal the name of the villain. JW, as U.S. army scout John Trent, sporting what appears to be the costume he wore in The Big Trail, rides off on his trusty steed, Duke, to avenge the death of his best friend, accompanied by fellow cavalryman and designated comic relief, Corporal Tippy, played by Frank McHugh.

The schweinhund they’re going to be looking for is Gus Lynch, played by Albert J. Smith. The main Indianer villain, High Wolf, is played by famous stuntman Yakima Canutt, who went on to perform the “Holy ficken, I’m being dragged along the ground underneath a bunch of horses and I just remembered I forgot to pay my insurance premium last week” stunt in Stagecoach a few years later.

JOhn Wayne in The Telegraph TrailWhat with the telegraffen being kaput, the locals threaten to riot on account of there being no way to order in any more whiskey for the winter. I think that was the gist of the thing, but to be quite frank my German’s not that gut. In fact, it’s absolute scheisse.

Meanwhile, Uncle Zeke attempts to persuade his Aryan beauty of a niece, fraulein Alice, to be Gus the villain’s main squeeze. Alice takes one look at his permanent five o’clock shadow and is forced to say “nein”, lying to Gus that Duke is ‘mien liebling’ – not the horse though. Definitely not the horse.

Alice overhears Gus and Yak discussing their next dastardly move and writes a note to JW telling him that the Indianer’s are ready to attack the supply train “at Red Bluff”. I know this because, just like Jonesy, Alice writes her notes in English. 

Yak is easy to understand as well. All he ever says is ‘how’, which by a thankful coincidence is exactly the way the word is said in German. So far so gut. Okay. I’m really getting the hang of this now.

JW and Alice eventually bond whilst an awful dirge of a song plays in the background. Strange though. Everyone speaks German but some of them sing in English. I have to admit I started to lose the plot about three-quarters of the way through.

I think Gus prevails upon Yak and his tribe to take the fight to the white man, destroy the telegraph poles, transfer the Sudetenland back to Germany, annexe Czechoslovakia, invade Poland then take on the rest of the world.

There’s a surprising amount of action in this film but, apart from when Gus and Yak get their final desserts, it starts to get a bit silly towards the end. During the climactic Indianer raid on a wagon train, JW disguises himself as one of the attacking tribe by donning a war bonnet and removing his shirt, yet fails to go the full Monty by removing his trousers.

By the time dummkopf Corporal Tippy starts throwing cans of tinned tomatoes at the attacking hordes – honest, I am not making this stuff up – I knew it was time to say auf wiedersehen.

Stay tuned for our next review, Somewhere in Sonora, which I promise will be in English only.


Photo of author
Steve is a film scholar of note, gaining both an MA in film studies and a Ph.D. for his thesis on the silent films of John Ford. Steve, a scriptwriter and published novelist, provides much of the content you see here and is a dedicated aficionado and longtime fan of John Wayne, John Ford and Western films in general.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.