Allegheney Uprising (1939): Seiter’s Historical Drama, Starring John Wayne and Claire Trevor

Allegheney Uprising is one of the tree pictures–the weakest–John Wayne had made with Claire Trevor, one of his favorite screen ladies.  The others two were “Stagecoach,” (the first and best collaboration) released earlier the same year, and “Dark Command,” in 1940.

Trevor, a bigger box-office name than Wayne at the time, received top billing in all of the three pictures.  The producers hoped to recreate the magic and success of their first teaming, “Stagecoach” in 1939, but they could not.

This ponderous tale is set in 1759, when America was still a British colony.  Wayne plays Jim Smith, a frontiersman who finds out that Trader Callendar (Brian Donlevy) is supplying Pennsylvania’s Indians with liquor and forearms.

Allegheny Uprising

Film poster

Claire Trevor is cast as Janie McDougle, a woman in love with Jim, though knowing he’s not the romantic or marrying kind.

Indeed, Jim leaves Janie to chase a band of marauding Indians, and then travels to Philadelphia to report the illegal traffic of the traders. A force of British soldiers, under the command of Captain Swanson (George Sanders), then garrisons Fort Loudon to protect the innocent settlers.

In a confrontation with the bureaucratic Swanson, Jim says, “You’ll never learn, you’ll never learn to know us,” thus expressing the contempt for the Brits and the discontents that eventually led to the 1776 Declaration of Independence.

The two men could not have been more different: Whereas the pompous Swanson goes by the book and stands for the past, Jim is a practical man of action, guided by his instincts and common sense. When Swanson talks of observing the rules of civilized warfare, Jim’s reply is short and terse: “Tripe!” This element became prominent in Wayne’s future screen image, accounting for its durability and popularity.

Backed by the local magistrate, who understands the settlers’ fears, Jim defies the military and eventually gains the support of Swanson’s superiors.

If he had time for a girl, it’d be her (Janie), someone says about Jim’s lack of leisure time and lack of interest in women.   However, the tomboyish Janie will not take no as an answer, and she follows Jim.  When asked where she’s going, Janie simply says: “With My Man!”

In the U.K., the film was released under the title of “The First Rebel,” which is the name of the factual story upon which it is based.

Produced by Pandro Berman, “Allegheny Uprising” is more technically polished than John Wayne’s other films of the era, benefiting from the strong imagery of Nicholas Musuraca, who is better known for shooting many film noirs.


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Janie McDougle (Claire Trevor)
Jim Smith (John Wayne)
Captain Swanson (George Sanders)
Trader Callendar (Brian Donlevy)
McDougle (Wilfrid Lawson)
M Common (Chill Wills)
Tom Calhoon (Moroni Olsen)


Running Time: 92 minutes
Release date: April 5, 1940

Produced by Pandro S. Berman and P. J. Wolfson
Directed by William Seiter.
Screenplay: P.J. Wolfson, based on the factual story, “The First Rebel,” by Neil Swanson.
Camera: Nicholas Musuraca.
Edited by George Crone.
Art Direction: Van Nest Poglase