“Some men saw in the new era of the railroad the end of their own ox train regime. They fought a stubborn, bloody battle of resistance. This is a story of those times, of those trains, of those men.” Yes, indeed. Our starting point in this cinematic journey is Habersford, Missouri—where “Pipestone” Ross (Dean Jagger) operates a successful ox train bidness, assisted by his partner Ben Santley (Howard Da Silva). Ben’s sister Julie (Pamela Blake) is Ross’ fiancée, his proposal sealed by a diamond engagement ring with more karats than Bugs Bunny.
Hard as it is to believe, “Pipestone” is all for progress and is convinced that there’s plenty of room for both the ox train and the choo-choo train. Okay, I’m just jinkin’ ya—Ross is most displeased with this turn of events, and informs Ben that they will accompany Pat and Vane to Omaha while scheming for a way to (bad pun ahead) derail Vane’s burgeoning venture.
To be honest—I’m never entirely comfortable tackling an M-G-M programmer because the gloss of that studio always makes their B-pictures look like A-minus pictures. As such, that’s what The Omaha Trail has going for it; sure, it’s a routine shoot-‘em-up with Indians on the warpath and the like, but it has one hell of an impressive cast—who nevertheless treat the humdrum material as if it were Stagecoach (1939).
Personally, I thought Da Silva ran circles around him in the thespic department; his villainy isn’t in black-and-white and despite recognizing the threat that is Vane’s locomotive to his future business model, he’s squeamish at the thought of people being killed (chiefly his sister, who’s accompanying Ross to Omaha) in the process. Pamela Blake, whom we last visited in Kid Dynamite (1943), makes for a most beguiling ingénue (I enjoy watching her in serials like The Mysterious Mr. M  and Ghost of Zorro ). It’s just a shame that her marriage choices are between the oleaginous Jagger and the cardboard Craig.
Yeah, I said it. I’m not a fan of James Craig’s…and to be even more brutal, I’m perplexed as to how he ever had a movie career in the first place. Most of his gigs at M-G-M in the 1940s were obtained due to his resemblance to studio “King” Clark Gable, who was “doing his bit” in the U.S. Army Air Force. This is not to say the actor stunk up every movie he appeared in; he’s surprisingly first-rate in The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), mildly tol’able in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945) …oh, yeah—he’s also in While the City Sleeps (1956)—though I obviously adore watching that movie for other reasons (Howard Duff, Ida Lupino, Vincent Price, George Sanders, etc., etc., etc.). When Clark was demobbed, Craig went back to B-picture city and later did quite a bit of TV before calling it a wrap, eventually become successful in real estate.
Harry Morgan (still being billed as Henry) also channels his inner goon as Nat, a stooge who works for Ross (and who carelessly causes an incident that brings down the wrath of a Sioux tribe the party meets on the trail). Iron Eyes Cody and his brother J.W. are the two Native Americans befriended by Candel (before Nat goes on to demonstrate why we can’t have nice things), and there are bits from familiar Western vets like Bud Geary and Ethan Laidlaw.
I was more intrigued by the producer credit; I know Jack Chertok mostly for his small screen contributions like The Lone Ranger, Private Secretary, and My Favorite Martian. Short and sweet (it’s over and done with at 61 minutes), try and catch it the next time it airs on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ (it’s not on DVD).