Westward the Women

Director: William A. Wellman
Screenwriters: Frank Capra, Charles Schnee

Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


Women are the moral and emotional centers of Wellman’s films. Often they are stronger, smarter, and more honest than the men who surround them, and they subtly lead these men to new ways of looking at their world. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Westward the Women, Wellman’s tribute to the resourceful women who pioneered the West, shouldering its hardships and sharing its triumphs equally with the men who accompanied them.

It is 1851, and landowner Roy Whitman (John McIntire) hires trail guide Buck Wyatt (Robert Taylor) to go with him to Chicago and find mail-order wives for a group of ranchers in California and lead their wagon train there. Along the way, the women have to cope with the usual adversities of Indians, disease, accidents, and bad weather as well as fend off some of Taylor’s hired hands. Denise Darcel plays Fifi Danon, another outspoken Wellman woman, who spars with Taylor all the way and then decides she loves him.

Wellman injected as much authenticity as possible into the film. It was filmed on location, mostly in the Mohave Desert, and Wellman told cinematographer Mellor to shoot without filters to accentuate the heat, dust, and glare. The actresses did all the physical work on the film themselves. The result, as Wellman biographer Frank Thompson says, “is a monument to women past and present, a tribute to the pioneer spirit and the indomitability of the human spirit.”

— Barbara Bannon

Screening Details

  • Section: William Wellman: American Storyteller
  • Film Type: Dramatic Feature
  • Country: U.S.A.
  • Run Time: 116 min.
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