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The Way West is a 1967 American western film directed by Andrew V. McLaglen and starring Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, and Richard Widmark, and Sally Field. It was based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name by A. B. Guthrie, Jr. The film featured on-location cinematography by William H. Clothier. Sam Elliott made his feature film debut as an uncredited Missouri Townsman.

The Way West
The Way West cinema poster.jpg
Original 1967 cinema poster
Directed byAndrew V. McLaglen
Produced byHarold Hecht
Screenplay byBen Maddow
Mitch Lindemann
Based onThe Way West
by A.B. Guthrie Jr.
Music byBronislau Kaper
CinematographyWilliam H. Clothier
Edited byOtho Lovering
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • May 24, 1967 (1967-05-24) (US)
Running time
122 minutes
CountryUnited States


U.S. Senator William Tadlock (Kirk Douglas) is leaving his home in Missouri in 1843, heading west on the Oregon Trail by wagon train. His son and slave come along, with Dick Summers (Robert Mitchum) as a hired guide. Joining them on the expedition are farmer Lije Evans (Richard Widmark), his wife Rebecca (Lola Albright), and 16-year-old son Brownie (Michael McGreevey). Among others there are also the newlyweds Johnnie (Michael Witney) and Amanda Mack (Katherine Justice), plus the Fairman and McBee families.

Shy young wife Amanda isn't satisfying his needs, so Johnnie gets drunk and strays with young Mercy McBee (Sally Field). He also shoots at what he drunkenly thinks is a wolf, and ends up killing a Sioux chief's son. Tadlock knows that no other form of justice will do for the Indians if the wagon train is being pursued by them out of vengeance, so he hangs Johnnie, for the safety of the traveling party, but to their outrage. On the trail, it turns out Mercy is now pregnant as well, and Brownie proposes marriage to her.

Tadlock's son is killed in a stampede, causing the senator to be so distraught that he becomes harsh and despotic towards his charges. The last straw comes when Tadlock destroys Rebecca Evans' antique clock after Lije Evans refuses to abandon it. A fight ensues when Tadlock is attacked by Evans, for which Tadlock retaliates by trying to shoot Evans, only for Summers to stop him. The others form a lynch mob and attempt to hang Tadlock, but Evans talks them out of it and now takes charge of the trek.

Nearly to the end, the trek reaches a steep ravine, which offers the only shortcut to their destination. Rebecca Evans shows the others Tadlock's grand plan, and Evans relinquishes command back to Tadlock. The settlers lower their possessions, livestock, and each other down the steep escarpment to reach the wagon road to the Willamette Valley. Emotionally destroyed by the loss of Johnnie, Amanda Mack cuts the rope Tadlock is descending on, causing the senator to plunge to his death. Amanda runs off into the desert, but the others, after commemorating Tadlock's efforts, press on to Oregon. Summers stays behind, departing to parts unknown.


The film is notable for being the first big-budget western since 1930's widescreen John Wayne spectacle The Big Trail, to show pioneers lowering a wagon train over a cliff with ropes.

This was the second time that Mitchum and Douglas appeared in a film together since Out of the Past in 1947, after The List of Adrian Messenger in 1963. Douglas had previously filmed another A.B. Guthrie novel, The Big Sky.

Filming took place in Tucson, Arizona, and various places in Oregon, including BendChristmas Valley,the sand dunes and lost forestCrooked River Gorge.[1]



  1. ^ "Filmed in Oregon 1908-2015" (PDF). Oregon Film Council. Oregon State Library. Retrieved December 27, 2015.

University of Southern California Division of Cinema; American Film Institute; Center for Understanding Media. Filmfacts 1967. pp. 146–248.

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