Brigham Young (1940) is a classic American film having to do with the heroic migration of Mormons from east to west. As the movie begins, the persecuted group under the leadership of Joseph Smith has already been booted out of New York, Ohio, and Missouri. Illinois yahoos likewise drive the Mormons from Nauvoo. On the other side of the Mississippi, they celebrate their unceremonious deliverance with music.
The film has a star-studded cast. It includes Vincent Price, Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Dean Jagger, John Carradine, Brian Donlevy, and Mary Astor. It was produced by Darryl F. Zanuck and directed by Henry Hathaway. It is a bona fide Hollywood epic, made in California. It is both artistic and commercial. But the filmmakers of 1940 were a gifted bunch. They had range; they had respect. There is a lot of corn in this movie, but it still manages to bring off the depiction of a genuine miracle on American soil.
Brigham Young, the man, became the successor to Joseph Smith, lynched in Carthage, Illinois. As to whether or not his inspired choice of Salt Lake to re-establish the Mormon Church is the result of a revelation or a shrewd sense of real estate is up to the viewer. After the odyssey through the Rocky Mountains, the weary but spirited followers again play music.
Albuquerque has several Mormon churches. Anyone who resides here is well-aware of their presence. To a large extent, the west, not just Utah, is Mormon country. In The American Religion (1992), Harold Bloom writes extensively on the grip Mormons have on the southwest. But this is only one element that serves to define New Mexico’s pluralistic heritage. Other religions as well as cultures are equally influential.
History buffs might well object. Despite the stars cited above, the reality of what transpired and the personalities involved escapes. No amount of dialogue on chewing tobacco, gold-mining, and polygamy can accurately reconstruct this significant episode from the 1800s. Nevertheless, the dvd is worthwhile in that it introduces a relevant subject (unless one is already informed) that is only harder to cinematically render today no matter how much research and technology is applied. The 1940 product will somehow endure. Also of interest are comparisons during the course of the movie between the wandering of Mormons in America and the book of Exodus in the Old Testament. They seem valid enough. If so, Albuquerqueans can rejoice at being so close to a holy people in a holy land.