It was invariably a bad sign when Republic saddled John Wayne with a wife and obliged him to wear a city feller's coat. To make matters worse, in Dakota the uxorial appendage is Czech kewpie doll Vera Hruba Ralston (a wife offscreen, too--to studio boss Herbert J. Yates). Eloping with her from the Chicago mansion of her railroad-baron daddy, Wayne wants to head west for California. Ralston prefers the wheat lands of Dakota and, not for the last time, gets her way.
With a slew of seasoned character actors (starting with Walter Brennan as a choleric riverboat captain), auspicious writing credits (Carl Foreman, Oscar-winner Howard Estabrook), and an offbeat setting--a melting-pot Fargo with immigrant farmers wearing the costumes of their native lands--Dakota really ought to be a more memorable movie. Instead, despite plenty of chases, robberies, and killings, it seems never quite to get started. The only mildly interesting aspect is Wayne's having to play it smiley and affable toward the likes of land-grabber Ward Bond and his henchmen Mike Mazurki, Grant Withers, and Paul Fix even as he knows they're responsible for every nasty thing that befalls the community.
Second-unit director Yakima Canutt stages a spectacular last-reel wheat-field fire, but mostly the movie is hamstrung by Republic's penchant for cheap miniatures and an overabundance of (awful) process photography. At one point, the riverboat on which the cast is traveling comes to an inglorious halt on a sandbar--and behind them, the scenery continues to glide merrily by. --Richard T. Jameson
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