Wagon Master (1950): John Ford’s Western, Starring Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Joanne Dru

John Ford directed Wagon Master, a Western starring Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Joanne Dru, and Ward Bond.

Aa prelude shows a violent robbery by the outlaw Clegg family–patriarch Shiloh (Charles Kemper) and his four “boys–followed by the credits.

A Mormon wagon train led by the Elder Wiggs (Ward Bond) around 1880 has reached Crystal City, and needs a wagon master to lead it further to its destination—the San Juan River country in southeastern Utah Territory. Their wagon train is expelled from Crystal City by the townspeople, and at the last minute horse traders Travis Blue (Ben Johnson) and Sandy Owens (Harry Carey, Jr.) take the wagon master job.

The film was one of Ford’s personal favorites, telling Bogdanovich: “Along with The Fugitive and The Sun Shines Bright, Wagon Master came closest to being what I wanted to achieve.”

The film inspired the TV series Wagon Train (1957–1965), which starred Ward Bond until his death in 1960.

While the critical and audience response to Wagon Master was lukewarm on its release, but over the years, some critics have claimed it’s one of Ford’s masterpieces.