BRIGHAM YOUNG (1940). Director: Henry Hathaway.
This story of the Mormons dealing with persecution and traveling to find a new home is surprisingly entertaining and exceedingly well-made with some striking photography and adroit editing. An initially unrecognizable Dean Jagger is quite good as the self-appointed Mormon leader, and he gets some fine support from the likes of Vincent Price (as Joseph Smith, who understandably wants the Mormons to arm themselves), John Carradine, Brian Donlevy, and Mary Astor as one of Young's wives. Tyrone Power gives one of his more memorable performances as Jonathan, a young Mormon, and Linda Darnell is effectively sweet as the non-Mormon he falls in love with. As always, Jane Darwell scores as Power's mother. The film milks a lot of drama out of the persecution and troubles of the Mormons. The raids on Mormon farms which open the film with assorted shootings and whippings is chilling, and a large amount of suspense is generated by the scene in which the Mormons rush to traverse a frozen river before their tormentors can catch up to them. Joseph Smith's brutal death at the hands of a mob whose bullets force his body out of a second story window is memorable. By the time the Mormons must try and beat off a horde of hungry crickets eating their grain, you may think the picture will do just about anything to drum up some drama, but even this sequence is exciting, as is the timely intervention of a huge flock of seagulls to eat the crickets. The movie has to be taken with a grain of salt, but to its credit it doesn't cram religion down your throat and it isn't an advertisement for the Mormon faith. Although the polygamous aspects of Mormonism are played down, there are some generally amusing references to it, and we see Young with more than one wife on at least one occasion. NOTE: the film is titled Brigham Young, Frontiersman on video.
Verdict: Quite entertaining. ***.