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The Oregon Trail (1959 film)

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The Oregon Trail
Directed byGene Fowler Jr.
Screenplay byLouis Vittes
Gene Fowler Jr.
Story byLouis Vittes
Produced byRichard Einfeld
StarringFred MacMurray
William Bishop
Nina Shipman
CinematographyKay Norton
Edited byBetty Steinberg
Music byPaul Dunlap
Color processColor by Deluxe
Associated Producers
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • September 1959 (1959-09)
Running time
86 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Oregon Trail is a 1959 American Western film directed by Gene Fowler Jr. and starring Fred MacMurray, William Bishop and Nina Shipman.[2][3][4]

The film's sets were designed by the art directors John B. Mansbridge and Lyle R. Wheeler.


In the midst of the Oregon boundary dispute, the President James K. Polk is secretly sending military agents, disguised as pioneers, west on the Oregon Trail so that they may protect American settlers in the event of war with British North America. Rumors of this conspiracy reach James Gordon Bennett Sr. at the New York Herald. He assigns one of his reporters, Neal Harris, to go on the Oregon Trail himself and find out the truth. On the trail, Harris befriends the eccentric Zachariah Garrison, who is bringing apple trees to Oregon. Harris clashes with Capt. George Wayne, the leader of Polk's agents, and they become involved in a love triangle over a young pioneer woman named Prudence Cooper. After they survive various hardships on the trail, Harris discovers who Wayne really is and declares that he will expose the military buildup in Oregon. Wayne tries to have Harris arrested, but he escapes.

Upon arriving at Fort Laramie, Wayne discovers that their mission has become moot with the signing of the Oregon Treaty and the commencement of the Mexican–American War. Not realizing this, Harris goes with a mountain man named Gabe Hastings to hide with the Arapaho. It turns out that Hastings and the Arapaho are hostile to the pioneers, but Harris escapes with the help of Hastings' half-Arapaho daughter Shona. They warn Fort Laramie in time, and the film concludes with a climactic battle against the Arapaho. Fort Laramie is successfully defended, but Garrison is killed. Harris resigns from being a reporter, so that he may continue on to Oregon with Garrison's apple trees. Shona renounces her people and joins Harris. Prudence ends up with Wayne, who is now heading off to join the war against Mexico.



The film was shot in May 1959.[5] It was financed by Robert L. Lippert who made B films for Fox; The Oregon Trail was more expensive than most of his films, being budgeted at around $300,000. Lippert said the film "won't lose" but could "have used another $100,000."[1]

Gene Fowler had made a number of Westerns for Lippert. He remembered The Oregon Trail as being "a son of a bitch – Lippert really screwed that one up. He made a bet with Spyros Skouras that he could make a big outdoor Western without ever leaving the Fox lot and like an idiot I agreed to direct it."[6]


The Los Angeles Times called the film "below standard".[7]

See also


  1. ^ a b Scheuer, P. K. (October 26, 1959). "Lippert hails era of $300,000 hits". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 167507684.
  2. ^ Pitts p.236
  3. ^ Dexter, Maury (2012). Highway to Hollywood (PDF). p. 112.
  4. ^ "OREGON TRAIL, the". Monthly Film Bulletin. 27. 1960. p. 9. ProQuest 1305821536.
  5. ^ Hopper, H. (May 18, 1959). "Fred MacMurray goes to work on 'oregon trail'". Chicago Daily Tribune. ProQuest 182300167.
  6. ^ Weaver, Tom (2006). Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes: Interviews with Actors, Directors, Producers and Writers of the 1940s through 1960s. McFarland. p. 76. ISBN 9780786428571.
  7. ^ Warren, G. (September 25, 1959). "'Five gates' showing on many area screens". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 167545009.


  • Pitts, Michael R. Western Movies: A Guide to 5,105 Feature Films. McFarland, 2012.
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The Oregon Trail (1959 film)
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