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Transcontinental Railroad Movies & TV

The Iron Road (1990)

This is the earlier (and lesser) of two PBS American Experience films on the transcontinental railroad. It's still worth viewing, however, for a general overview of the story in an entertaining package.

Transcontinental Railroad (2003)

The second PBS American Experience take on the transcontinental railroad is better researched, better crafted, and even more entertaining. It brings ample detail and great archival material with the commentary of some of our best railroad historians. An added bonus: the web page for the film also includes a transcript and links to additional resources. Find it at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/tcrr/

Union Pacific (1939)

This is the Hollywood version: The most famous director of American epics, Cecil B. DeMille, takes on the railroad to the West. The film adopts a popular novel from the 1930s and presents a love triangle on the tracks in 1869. Taken with a dose of reality (one of the PBS films, perhaps), DeMille's picture is a black and white testament to Hollywood's love of the West and its legends.

How the West Was Won (1962)

Don't look to this one for the real story. The real West was won or lost depending on whom you ask. Like Union Pacific, How the West Was Won is best viewed as something of a cultural artifact, a high-dollar, star-studded romantic epic inspired by a Life magazine series of the same name. This is history by Hollywood as refracted through mid-twentieth century popular culture. The story of the West is strictly one of progress and adventure. Watch for the legendary John Wayne as the legendary Gen. William T. Sherman.

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