The Iron Horse (film)

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The Iron Horse
Iron Horse Poster.jpg
Film poster
Directed by John Ford (uncredited)
Written by Charles Kenyon
John Russell
Charles Darnton
Produced byJohn Ford
Starring George O'Brien
Madge Bellamy
Cinematography George Schneiderman
Edited by Hettie Gray Baker
Music by Ernö Rapée (uncredited)
Distributed by Fox Film Corporation
Release date
  • August 28, 1924 (1924-08-28)
Running time
150 minutes (US version)
133 minutes (International version)
CountryUnited States
Language Silent (English intertitles)
Box office$942,889 [1]

The Iron Horse is a 1924 American silent Western film directed by John Ford and produced by Fox Film. [2] It was a major milestone in Ford's career, and his lifelong connection to the western film genre. It was Ford's first major film, in part because the hastily planned production went over budget, as Fox was making a hurried response to the success of another studio's western. In 2011, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. [3]


The Iron Horse (full film)


The film is about the construction of the American first transcontinental railroad. It depicts Irish, Italian, and Chinese immigrants, as well as African Americans, as the men who did the backbreaking work that made this feat possible. The primary villain is an unscrupulous businessman who masquerades as a renegade Cheyenne. It culminates with the scene of driving of the golden spike at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869.



Among the extras used in the Central Pacific sequences were several Chinese men playing coolies who worked on the railroad. They were in fact retired Central Pacific Railroad employees who had helped build the first transcontinental railroad through the Sierras, who came out to participate in the filming as a lark. [4]

There is a note in the title before this scene that the two original locomotives from the 1869 event are used in the film, although this is false - both engines (Union Pacific No. 119 and Jupiter) were scrapped before 1910.


In December 2011, The Iron Horse was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry. [5] In choosing the film, the Registry said that The Iron Horse "introduced to American and world audiences a reverential, elegiac mythology that has influenced many subsequent Westerns." [5]

The film's importance was recognized by the American Film Institute in the 2008 AFI's 10 Top 10, where it was nominated in the Western category. [6]

Critical reception

The film has a 78% rating in Rotten Tomatoes. [7]

Home media

The film was released on DVD in America in its full-length US version (accompanied by the truncated UK version). A 2011 release of The Iron Horse on DVD in the UK included both the US and International/UK versions of the picture, and a half-hour video-essay about the film by author and critic Tag Gallagher. The international version includes some variant shots and uses different names for some supporting characters; it also carries a dedication to the British railway engineer George Stephenson. [8]

Near the end of the film, it is stated that the actual "Jupiter" and "UP 116" were used in the scene. Besides incorrectly identifying the "UP 119" as the "UP 116", both engines had been scrapped 21 and 15 years earlier. Of interest, however, what appears to be the Central Pacific's "C.P. Huntington", now on display in Sacramento, California, is being manhandled up a steep grade on a sledge made of logs.


Starting in the early 1920s the publishing house Grosset and Dunlap crafted a deal with the prominent Hollywood studios to issue novelizations of their major, original releases and among those was The Iron Horse (1924, 329pp). The author was Edwin C. Hill, then a journalist, who would become a prominent radio broadcaster, best remembered for a show called The Human Side of the News .

See also

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  1. Box Office Information for The Iron Horse
  2. "Progressive Silent Film List: The Iron Horse". Retrieved March 1, 2008.
  3. "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  4. Brownlow, Kevin. Episode "Out West," Hollywood: A Celebration of American Silent Cinema (Thames Television), 1980
  5. 1 2 "2011 National Film Registry More Than a Box of Chocolates". Library of Congress. December 28, 2011. Retrieved December 29, 2011.
  6. "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  7. Rotten Tomatoes entry
  8. The Iron Horse: 2011 DVD edition, The Masters of Cinema Series.