THE FAR HORIZONS tells the story of Lewis & Clark’s trek across America. Well, uh, sort of. From 1955, it’s a standard Hollywoodsy product, playing freely with fact and not doing very much at all with the potential offered by outlining the great adventure that is its centerpiece. Aside from gazing at scenery, you’re better off with reading about these trailblazers. *
Fred MacMurray makes one bland and boring figure out of the ultimately tragic Meriwether Lewis and Charlton Heston merely grimaces his way through the buckskins of the hardy William Clark. Utterly contrary to history, the script (by Winston Miller and Edmund H. North, working off a novel by Della Gould Emmons) has Clark romancing first Lewis’ fiancée back East (Barbara Hale) then doubling down on the jealousy supply when they head West by making time with Sacagawea, the Shoshone girl who acted as guide for much of the expedition. While Lewis broods, Clark has to deal with the stoic maiden’s other suitors, a gross Frenchman named Charboneau and a wild brave named ‘Wild Eagle’. Indian fights ensue.
Aside from names of principals and the singular fact of the journey, none of the rest of what happens in the script, happened. Charboneau was the husband (more like, the owner) of Sacagawea, there were no battles with the tribes (thanks in large part to the presence, guidance and interpreting of the indispensable young lady) and only one member of the expedition failed to return (dying of appendicitis, not arrows). You’re not likely to find questioning of Manifest motives in something made in the middle of the prosperous Eisenhower Era, but they had little excuse for making this bold trek such a limp plod. The man named York, Lewis’ African-American slave, was, unsurprisingly, left out of the lank screenplay for The Far Horizons.
“Makeup!” The 16-year-old Sacagawea, meanwhile, is played by the 33-year old Donna Reed. That always brings a chuckle upon mention, and every snarky review is obliged to scoff (and tiresomely lay on guilt), but actually the lovely Donna does her trouper best with the poor material. Charboneau is played by burly Allan Reed–no relation. His French accent is so movie-ish that they should have named him Chardonnay. Reed later gained immortality as the voice of ‘Fred Flintstone’. Along with the two Reeds, TV would also call others in the supporting cast—Hale would go on to Perry Mason, and William Demarest’s long career would get a late boost with 215 episodes of MacMurray’s My Three Sons, as the fount of wisdom ‘Uncle Charley’. The fictive ‘Wild Eagle’ was the second movie credit for 26-year-old former baseballer Larry Pennell. He’d migrate to television, first with Ripcord, then gain pop culture fame as ‘Dash Rip Rock’ on The Beverly Hillbillies. ‘Bud’ Pennell also married my sister in 1960 and they stayed together until his death in 2013. He told me he felt this movie was an unfortunate stinker, that MacMurray and Demarest were very nice and that he really liked Donna Reed (who wouldn’t?) Not that big of a fan of Chuck, who shoots him out of a tree in this tall tale.
Shot on location in acreage around Jackson Hole and the Tetons of Wyoming, so at least cinematographer Daniel L. Fapp had some sparkling natural vistas to frame for his Vista-vision camera. Former cinematographer Rudolph Maté directed, flatly. A little action, none too thrilling when it comes, some pretty scenery and a lot of buffalo puckey in between. 108 minutes of Dullsville.
With Eduardo Noreiga, Ralph Moody and William Phipps. It loped in #71 for 1955, grossing $4,600,000.
* While the actors in this fanciful telling mostly had long, productive lives, some of their historic counterparts didn’t have that luck. Lewis, President Jefferson’s nephew and 29 at the time they started the trek (MacMurray was 46) only lived to be 35, dying of either murder or suicide (neither conclusively proven). The complicated, controversial Clark made it to 68. Rough French-Canadian trapper Toussaint Charboneau hung on until he was 76. Lewis called him “a man of no particular merit”. He took the last of five Native American wives when he was 70: she was fourteen. His most famous mate–whom he’d ‘bought’ from the Hidatsa tribe when she was 13–died at 25 from typhus: Sacagawea had never received any compensation for her vital contributions to one of the most famous and important expeditions in history. History itself was her reward.