“Only two things in this world that scares me,” confesses Robert Taylor at the start of Westward the Women, “and a good woman is both of them!” As the veteran wagon guide Buck, he will have to confront both of his worst fears in a big way when he is hired by California territory settler Roy Whitman to lead 140 women from Chicago half-way across the country to his settlement, where a community of men are waiting eagerly for wives. This initial impetus for the story seemingly objectifies women to a social commodity — the men need wives to have children, and Whitman’s town relies on this cycle of life in order to prosper. But it is exactly this objectification that the narrative continually rejects and fights against throughout the movie. Much to Buck’s chagrin, his female “passengers” repeatedly transgress stringent gender binding, embracing this westward expansion as both a social and personal journey as well. For this band of women, Manifest Destiny is more than a geographical crusade — it’s about redefining oneself outside the strictures of society.
Cullen Gallagher is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work has appeared in Beat to a Pulp, Crimefactory, Film Comment, The L Magazine, Bright Lights Film Journal, The Brooklyn Rail, Fandor, Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Hammer to Nail, Moving Image Source, Spinetingler, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Between Lavas, Reverse Shot, and Guitar Review.