The Iron Horse

The Iron Horse (1924) Director: John Ford


The Iron Horse is an entertaining picture with some absolutely amazing shots. It captures many of the tropes of classic western films and is a terrific picture worth seeing at least once for lovers of great works of cinema, even though it falls short of the grander vision expounded by John Ford in his later works. The quality of the film has deteriorated somewhat with time, but the cinematography remains extraordinary. John Ford is a master of making motion pictures and The Iron Horse is an early example of his genius.

A western epic, Ford’s The Iron Horse was a huge production. At two and a half hours of run-time, it is a lengthy silent film, even though much of the film was unplanned during its production. It was filmed during a cold winter in the Nevada desert. Ford later said it was his favorite of his films.

The film tells a glamorized version of the building of the transcontinental railroad, through the clash of cultures: the Italians, the Irish, the Chinese laborers, American Indians and so on. The star, George O’Brien, is best known for his lead role in F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. Like a D.W. Griffith epic, the film romanticizes seedier elements of the American past, and it portrays President Lincoln as a god among men.

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