THE WAY WEST went wayward slogging down the trail in 1967, scalped by critics and stiffed by the public, taking in only $3,670,000 against a budget of $5,000,000. Its 122 minutes drag under Andrew V. McLaglens pedestrian direction, the overcooked acting and a wheezy screenplay (whittled from a well-regarded A.B. Guthrie,Jr. novel) that seems achingly out-of-tune in a year lit up by the pizzazz of Bonnie And Clyde, The Graduate and The Dirty Dozen.
Wagon train heads to Oregon in 1843, led by harsh and humorless Kirk Douglas, somnolent (stoned?) Robert Mitchum and blustery-folksy Richard Widmark. “Introduced” Sally Field, 20 and lapsed from The Flying Nun, lolls trampish as ‘Mercy McBee’, while Lola Albright churns up more fakey pioneer soup stock in a lukewarm pot of clichés that also features hardies Jack Elam, Harry Carey Jr. and Stubby Kaye. Insultingly clumsy and utterly unconvincing Sioux show up, a few fistfights occur, romance blooms, arguments fester, the swelling soundtrack from Bronislau Kaper doing what it can to make the gristle come off as grandeur.
Excellent camera craftmanship from William Clothier is the movies only standout, with beautiful locations (albeit geographically out-of-order, per standard Hollywood —“they won’t notice”) giving your eyes something to appreciate while your head aches from the awful dialogue and delivery of same. Pretty much paycheck time on the prairie, with Kirk, Bob and Dick a bit long in the tooth (50, 49 and 52) for this rut-stuck rehash.
An arduous physical shoot (Albright nearly drowned), marred by Kirk’s overbearing ego, creating tension with nearly everyone, Mitchum drily offering he’d land one “between Kirk’s horns” if he didn’t back off.
A bad song is added for extra channel-changing capacity, thanks to The Serendipity Singers, a folk group on their way out after brief success a few years earlier (“Don’t Let The Rain Come Down”, for those of you ancient enough to recall pieces of 1964 not owned by The Beatles).
Those rich scenic locations include various Oregon regions around Bend, Mt. Bachelor and the Crooked River Gorge. With Michael McGreevey, Katherine Justice, Michael Witney, Patric Knowles, Eddie Little Sky, Nick Cravat.