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Dakota ()

directed by
featuring John Wayne, Vera Ralston, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond, Mike Mazurki

According to Hollywood lore, both John Wayne and director Frank Borzage refused to work with Vera Hruba Ralston, the Czech-born inamorata (and future wife) of Republic Pictures owner Herbert I. Yates. Yates somehow managed to convince Wayne to change his mind, but Borzage was replaced by contract director Joseph Kane. The result was Dakota, the company's major release of 1945, a potentially sprawling empire-building Western. Wayne and Ralston play newlyweds heading for Fargo, North Dakota, where they plan to buy land in anticipation of the coming of the railroad. They are opposed by saloon owner Jim Bender (Ward Bond), who also knows about the expansion and is coercing the homesteaders into selling their land to him and his chief lieutenant, Collins (Mike Mazurki). The latter has been elected president of the Wheat Growers Association, and soon the farmers find themselves indebted to Bender. But Wayne, with his wife's help, beats Bender and his henchman at their own game, making certain that the farmers are well compensated for selling their land to the railroad company owned by Ralston's father (Hugo Haas). Contrary to popular belief, Vera Hruba Ralston was not Dakota's chief liability. For some reason, Republic Pictures, normally a leader in action-oriented melodrama, chose to employ an inordinate amount of rear projection footage this time around, making for rather dull viewing. The Western only leaves the confines of the studio back lot for the climactic prairie fire scenes, filmed by a second unit under the direction of stunt expert Yakima Canutt. Apparently a better figure skater than an actress, Ralston actually shows a bit of spirit in some of her scenes but is rather obviously upstaged by the veteran Ona Munson as a kind-hearted saloon entertainer. Munson was borrowed from Warner Bros. and her singing of "Coax Me" by Andrew B. Sterling and Harry Von Tilzer remains one of Dakota's main pleasures despite editor Fred Allen's endless cross-cutting to Ralston's reactions. The latter was reportedly a very pleasant person devoid of a prima donna ego and would be cast opposite John Wayne again in The Fighting Kentuckian (1949). Republic serial heroines Linda Stirling and Adrian Booth can be spotted among Munson's dancing girls. Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi Hide synopsis

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