Omaha Trail, The (1942)
Directed by Edward Buzzell, writing credits for Hugo Butler (Edison, the Man (1940)) & Jesse Lasky Jr., story. This average Western features several familiar faces, a couple of songs, and a typical "circle the wagons" to fend off the Indians sequence, during which the white men can't miss whereas the natives (with the advantage of cover) can't shoot fish in a barrel. In the days before railroads linked the Eastern part of our country with the West, ox-pulled carts performed this valuable function. With the advent of the railroad, however, the ox-cart was to go the way of the buggy whip (e.g. after the invention of the automobile). This story of this film is about the conflict which may have occurred when those who ran the ox-cart businesses felt threatened by the railroad.
Ben Santley (Howard Da Silva) is trying to beat rival ox cart hauler, and sometime employer, "Pipestone" Ross (Dean Jagger - Twelve O'Clock High (1949)) back from Omaha to the town where the steamboats of the Mississippi can no further carry needed supplies West. However, as usual, Ben ran into some trouble which prevented him from arriving first. It seems whoever went through a particular area first failed to warn those who followed about some soft ground where one could lose a cart. Ben suspects it was Pipestone but, since his sister Julie (Pamela Blake) is about to marry his "rival", he says nothing. Working the trail back with Ben and his crew were mouth-harp playing Pat Candel (James Craig) and Henry Hawkins (Chill Wills - The Alamo (1960)). When Pat meets Pipestone, with his henchman Nat (Harry Morgan - who speaks only a couple of lines late in the film), he lets him know that if it had been his cart, he would have taken care of the culprit.
Pat then meets Julie and instantly falls for her, but she informs him that she and Pipestone are to be married, showing him her rather large engagement ring. There's a mild (working) class inference, but otherwise Julie prefers a man with a purpose. Pat thinks the ring is tacky and claims to have found his direction in her ... but he gets the message and leaves. In a poker game, Pat stands up to, and handles a cheater which catches the eye of Mr. Vane (Edward Ellis), who's been trying to get his railroad engine transported to Omaha in order to force the railroad companies into expanding westward, instead of playing land ownership games. Pat sees his offer of $15,000 as an opportunity to win Julie and accepts only to find that Pipestone owns all the oxen in town. So, Vane agrees to pay all he has, the $15,000, to hire Pipestone's company to transport the engine, under the condition that Pat is in charge of the trip. Donald Meek plays Jonah, the train’s engineer. Morris Ankrum plays one of Pipestone's thugs. Pipestone tells Ben that the only reason he took the money was to insure that the train never reached Omaha.
All the parties depart for Omaha. Along the way, Pipestone's efforts to disrupt Pat's completion of a successful job cause Ben, not willing to be involved in any killing, to waver and Julie to see both Pat's good, and Pipestone's shady, character. Though the ending should come as no surprise, there is a particularly hokey incident involving the train and our heroes’ escape.