The struggles of settling the American frontier are brought to life in this film directed by John Ford (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and The Quiet Man). Ford has done an excellent job using colour photography to bring to life the splendor of life on the frontier and the horrible struggle that was the American Revolution. The film was first released in 1939. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Cinematography, Colour Film and Edna May Oliver (Mrs. McKlennar) was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Her nomination is understandable as she steals almost every scene that she is in. Henry Fonda is his usual great self in portraying an ordinary man, who because of the circumstances happening around him, is forced to do extraordinary things. For fans of American history, this film portrays a period in time that is not dealt with very much and does an above average job.
In the year 1776 in Albany, New York, Gilbert Martin (Henry Fonda) marries Lana Borst (Claudette Colbert – It Happened One Night and Imitation of Life). Lana is from a well-to-do family and they are worried about Gilbert's notion to live on the frontier. Gilbert and Lana set up a farm in the yet unsettled Mohawk Valley in upstate New York. The whole town comes over and helps Gilbert clear his land. In the beginning Lana has a hard time adjusting and wants to go home, but eventually she settles in. A tribe of Indians are sighted coming to attack the settlement. Gilbert and Lana are forced to flee because their house is set on fire during the attack. Gilbert joins with the army to try and control the Indians. While he is away Lana passes out. When Gilbert comes back he is told that Lana has lost a baby.
Since they no longer have a house to live in, Gilbert wants to send Lana back to live in Albany. Lana says they should stay together and suggests that they hire themselves out as workers. At first, Gilbert resists the idea, but he eventually gives in. Mrs. McKlennar (Edna May Oliver – Pride and Prejudice and Little Women), a widow, hires the couple to work on her farm and she provides them with a house to live in. Everything is going fine until the Indians start attacking the town again. Gilbert finds out he has to leave to be enlisted in the army. After a large battle, most of the enlisted men have returned except for Gilbert. Lana waits on the edge of the settlement for him. She finds Gilbert disoriented in the woods. He is injured. Lana brings him back to the farm and nurses him. She tells Gilbert that she is pregnant. Lana has a baby boy.
The Indians come to the farm and set the house on fire. They even attack the town. Everyone joins in the battle, including the women. Mrs. McKlennar is killed. The town's ammunition supply is running low and a local man, Joe Boleo (Francis Ford -brother of the director – The Quiet Man and The Grapes of Wrath), decides he is going to try and sneak past the Indians to get help. Joe does not make it and is killed in front of the whole town. Gilbert decides that he is going to try to get to Fort Dayton. He is chased by the Indians but still tries to get through. Back at the town, the Indians come over the wall and attack. The town's only hope seems to be if Gilbert makes it though to Fort Dayton and brings back the army.
Special DVD Features:
-Restoration comparison: Split screen images are shown to demonstrate the difference in picture quality after the digital video restoration of the 1939 film.