The Railroad (1868) segment of How the West was Won; Hell on Wheels; Charlie Brown, this is America: The Transcontinental Railroad (Transcontinental Railroad Film Series: Images of the West)

Mon May 20th 2019, 7:00 - 9:30pm
Event Sponsor
Continuing Studies, Stanford Historical Society
CEMEX Auditorium, 641 Knight Way, Stanford
Admission Information
Free and open to the public

The events surrounding the building and completion of the Transcontinental Railroad are woven in the history and lore of the American West. Over the course of six weeks, the Stanford Historical Society will present a series of films, each introduced by historians, film scholars, and researchers, that will attempt to put these historical events in perspective. A discussion will follow each screening.

About the films:

The Railroad (1868) segment of How the West was Won (1963);  Hell on Wheels (2013) 42 minutes; Charlie Brown, this is America: The Transcontinental Railroad (1988) 24 minutes

Directed by George Marshall (Destry Rides Again), the Railroad segment of How the West was Won centers on a disillusioned Army officer who tries to protect the construction of the railroad and its tyrannical boss who violates a treaty with Arapahos by building train tracks on their land. This segment of the sprawling movie epic often wins accolades for making the best use of Cinerama’s (a trademarked widescreen process that originally projected images simultaneously from three synchronized 35 mm projectors) visual strengths.

The term “Hell on Wheels” derives from the numerous mobile towns that proliferated along the transcontinental railroad line. The towns followed the construction of the rail line and offered workers everything from dentistry to hardware supplies to saloons and prostitutes. It is in one such town that the fictionalized meeting of Gen. Ulysses Grant, the soon-to-be U.S. President, and Union Pacific executive Thomas Durant occurs. The meeting is about a shady deal between the Crédit Mobilier of America construction company and the U.S. government. The real Crédit Mobilier scandal led to the downfall of 15 powerful Washington politicians, including the Vice-President, the Treasury Secretary and the Speaker of the House.

Disclaimer: There is no way to get around it. Some portrayals of immigrants, native people, women and people of color in this film represent stereotyping and are downright offensive. They may make some viewers uncomfortable; we apologize, that is not our intention. These characterizations, viewed through the historical prism of the time the films were made can provide a window into how prejudices are created and often reinforced through popular culture. As part of our film series, we hope that these images will spark conversation and positive dialog, while providing a variety of perspectives about how, over a century of filmmaking, history has sometimes been misrepresented.

Charlie Brown’s earnest and culturally inclusive recitation of the story surrounding the railroad construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. The entire Peanuts crew is here and the episode ends when the gang witnesses the completion of the railroad in Promontory, Utah in 1869.

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