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The Covered Wagon

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The Covered Wagon
The Covered Wagon poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJames Cruze
Written byJack Cunningham (adaptation)
Based onThe Covered Wagon
by Emerson Hough
Produced byJesse L. Lasky
StarringJ. Warren Kerrigan
Lois Wilson
CinematographyKarl Brown
Edited byDorothy Arzner
Music byJosiah Zuro
Hugo Riesenfeld
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • March 16, 1923 (1923-03-16)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
English intertitles
Box office$3.5 million[1]
The Covered Wagon

The Covered Wagon is a 1923 American silent Western film released by Paramount Pictures. The film was directed by James Cruze based on a 1922 novel of the same name by Emerson Hough about a group of pioneers traveling through the old West from Kansas to Oregon. J. Warren Kerrigan starred as Will Banion and Lois Wilson as Molly Wingate. On their quest they experience desert heat, mountain snow, hunger, and Indian attack.[2]

The Covered Wagon is one of many films from 1923 that entered the public domain in the United States on January 1, 2019.[3]


The action is set in 1848. Two caravans of expatriate unite in Kansas and travel 2,000 miles west to start a new life in Oregon. The leader of the settlers is the elderly father and natural authority Wingate. Scouts are the headstrong Sam Woodhull and the kind-hearted and talented Will Banion. But Banion has a secret around a crime he is said to have committed in the army. Along the way, they suffer a number of hardships such as hunger and bad weather. In addition, Sam Woodhull, embroiled the settlers in clashes with Indians and later aroused the gold fever in some when news of gold discoveries reached the settlers. A dispute ensues and many leave the caravan and move to California.

Time and again Sam Woodhull causes problems, who got involved with Will Banion in a power struggle for the leadership of the caravan and also for the favor of the young Molly Wingate. Fortunately, Banion is by his old friend William Jackson, but in the end he also leaves the caravan shortly before Oregon for California to seek his luck there, as Molly's father forbids a connection with his daughter. Woodhull, who is spurned by Molly because she continues to love Banion, wants to get rid of him in California. He plans to shoot him from ambush. Fortunately, Jackson watches the scene and in turn shoots Woodhull on his back. With his news that Molly is expecting him in Oregon, Will Banion and his wealth are on their way to Oregon and can finally take Molly into his arms.


Cast notes

  • Tim McCoy, as Technical Advisor, recruited the Native Americans who appeared in this movie which included Northern Arapaho Nation from the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.[4]


The film was a major production for its time, with an estimate budget of $782,000.[5]

In his 1983 book Classics of the Silent Cinema, radio and TV host Joe Franklin claimed this film was "the first American epic not directed by Griffith".[4]

In the 1980 documentary Hollywood: A Celebration of American Silent Cinema, Jesse L. Lasky Jr. maintained that the goal of director James Cruze was " ... to elevate the Western, which had always been sort of a potboiler kind of film, to the status of an epic".[6]

The film required a large cast and film crew and many extras,[7] and was filmed in various locations, including Palm Springs, California[8]: 168–71  and several places in Nevada and Utah.[9] The dramatic buffalo hunt and buffalo stampede scenes were filmed on Antelope Island, Great Salt Lake, Utah. During filming for the movie, seven bison from the Antelope Island Bison Herd were shot and killed [citation?].

The covered wagons gathered by Paramount from all over the Southwest were not replicas, but the real wagons that had brought the pioneers west. They were cherished heirlooms of the families who owned them. The producers offered the owners $2 a day and feed for their stock if they would bring the wagons for the movie. Most of the extras seen on film are the families who owned the covered wagons and were perfectly at home driving them and living out of them during the production.[10]


The film premiered in New York City on March 16, 1923, and ran 98 minutes. A musical soundtrack was recorded in the short-lived DeForest Phonofilm sound-on-film process, but sources vary on whether this record soundtrack was of the entire score or about two reels worth of the film. The Phonofilm version of the film was only shown this way at the premiere at the Rivoli Theater in New York City.[11] Paramount reportedly also released Bella Donna on April 1, 1923, with a Phonofilm soundtrack, also only at the premiere at the Rivoli.

The film was the highest-grossing film of 1923. This was also President Warren G. Harding's favorite film as he showed it at a special screening at the White House during the summer of 1923.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also


  1. ^ "The All Time Best Sellers". International Motion Picture Almanac 1937–38. Quigley Publishing Company. p. 942. Retrieved April 8, 2018.
  2. ^ "The Covered Wagon".
  3. ^ "Public Domain Day 2019". Center for the Study of the Public Domain. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  4. ^ a b Franklin, Joe. Classics of the Silent Screen. Bramhall House.
  5. ^ "The Covered Wagon". September 8, 1924. Retrieved October 23, 2016 – via IMDb.
  6. ^ Brownlow, Kevin. Episode "Out West", Hollywood: A Celebration of American Silent Cinema (Thames Television), 1980.
  7. ^ "". Retrieved October 23, 2016.
  8. ^ Niemann, Greg (2006). Palm Springs Legends: creation of a desert oasis. San Diego, California: Sunbelt Publications. p. 286. ISBN 978-0-932653-74-1. OCLC 61211290. (here for Table of Contents)
  9. ^ "The Covered Wagon". September 8, 1924. Retrieved October 23, 2016 – via IMDb.
  10. ^ Episode "Out West", Hollywood, 1980.
  11. ^ "Silent Era : Progressive Silent Film List". Retrieved October 23, 2016.
  12. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 26, 2013. Retrieved August 20, 2016.
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The Covered Wagon
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