Brigham Young (1940)




Director:     Henry Hathaway.

Starring:     Tyrone Power (Jonathan Kent),  Linda Darnell (Zina Webb - The Outsider),  Dean Jagger (Brigham Young),  Brian Donlevy (Angus Duncan),  Jane Darwell (Eliza Kent),  John Carradine (Porter Rockwell),  Mary Astor (Mary Ann Young),  Vincent Price (Joseph Smith),  Jean Rogers (Clara Young),  Ann E. Todd (Mary Kent),  Willard Robertson (Heber Kimball),  Moroni Olsen (Doc Richards),  Marc Lawrence (Prosecutor),  Stanley Andrews (Hyrum Smith),  Frank M. Thomas (Hubert Crum ).

Brigham Young leads the Mormons (Latter Day Saints) out to today's Salt Lake City, Utah


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 


News Chronicle, Carthage, Illinois. A sign on the newspaper office window says:  "Every man with a gun wanted for a wolf hunt.  7 o'clock tonight."  The wolf hunt really means a raid on the Mormon settlement of Navoo.  At night the men put mud on their faces in preparation for the raid. 

In the home of the Mormon Kent family, they host two newcomers to town:  the pretty and non-Mormon Zina Webb and her father.  Jonathan Kent lives with his mother and his three siblings.  They hear the sounds of many galloping horses.  They have heard that sound before.   Jonathan wants to fight them, but his father prefers a less violent approach.  Zina is shocked and wants to know what is going on.  Jonathan tells her:  "It's a raid.  They hate us.  We're Mormons."  Jonathan takes the women and children to the storm cellar, while Mr. Webb goes to let the horses out of the barn in case the night riders burn it down.  The vigilantes arrive.  Mr. Webb is shot and killed.  The raiders tell the men to come out of the house.  When Mr. Kent and some other men come out, the vigilantes grab them and tie them to trees in the yard.  When Jonathan comes out to protect his father, he is hit on the head with a rifle butt. 

Zina talks with Mrs. Kent.  She can't understand the reason for all this hate and brutality.  She asks if this has happened before.  Mrs. Kent  says that "Five years ago in Missouri, something like this happened."  When Jonathan awakens, he runs back to the storm cellar and tells the women and children to come out and hide in the fields.  Jonathan then rushes to the front yard and jumps on the man whipping his father.  He is effective in fighting the whipping man, but soon other vigilantes jump on Jonathan, subdue him and knock him out.  After the night raiders leave and things return to a more normal state, Zina discovers the body of her dead father.  She screams. 

The scene changes to a large room.  A secretary is taking down the names of those killed and wounded in the various Mormon households.   Jonathan reports that his father, Caleb Kent, was beaten to death.  The next man reports the death of Jasper Palmer.  In the small room a group of the community's leaders meet with the founder of the Mormon religion, Joseph Smith.  They discuss the different responses that could be taken in response to the raid.  It seems the popular response is to fight back.  Smith listens to everyone and then says:  "If there's any more raiding we're going to fight back."   He encourages his people to get arms to resist the raiders. 

Typical of the United States in those days, the raiders are not punished, but Joseph Smith (representing the victims) is arrested from treason and armed rebellion.  In the trial the prosecutor is very prejudiced in his comments to the jury.  He also provides some background information on Smith.  He was raised in Palmyra, New York.  The prosecutor says that New York, Ohio and Missouri all threw Smith out of their states.  He comments on the establishment of a separate Mormon community known as Navoo.  The prosecutor adds:  "Before long, they'll own every stick and stone in Illinois."  In the courtroom, there are big cheers for the prosecutor.  The judge then asks if there is anyone who willing to speak on behalf of Mr. Smith.  A young man named Brigham Young stands up and speaks to the jury.  Among his arguments is the comment:  "Every American citizen has the right to worship God as he chooses."  He then goes on to tell the jury about the Joseph Smith that he knows. 

Flashback.  Brigham Young and his friend Heber Kimball travel from New York to Ohio in order to see this man Joseph Smith about whom they have heard so much.  They reach his house and Emma Smith tells them that her husband can be found chopping wood.  They walk around until they find the religious man.  Smith explains about his United Order which he says follows the law of nature.  His plan is a brotherhood plan, he says, in which there will be no social distinctions. 

Back to the present.  Brigham Young sums up for the jury saying that that those who deny religious freedom are the traitors.   The jury is then asked to consider the matter.  They don't even move from their seats.  They confer for less than a minute and declare:  "He's guilty!"  Smith will be sentenced by the judge the next day.  Leaving the court house the crowd taunts him with calls of "Holy Joe!"  In the night a mob forms outside the building where Joseph Smith is being held on the second floor. Since there are no guards to discourage them, they quickly break down the door, march up the steps and blast Joseph Smith into eternity.  Smith falls through the second floor window and lands on the ground outside. 

The still upset and grieving Zina tells the Kents that she will go to New York to live with her aunt.  They tell her that they would like her to stay with them.  Zina will have to think about it.

Brother Angus Duncan goes around saying that he has been picked to take Joseph's place as prophet.  And this, in spite of the fact that Smith wanted Young to be his successor. 

The cavalry starts heading for Navoo.  Jonathan sees them coming, jumps on his horse and rides to warn Brigham in Navoo.  The cavalry officer arrives and speaks with Brigham.  He tells Brigham that he and his people had better get out.  The night riders are too much for his small cavalry to handle.  And he says that Brigham has to follow the law.  Brigham has a good response:  "The law?  What law?"  The law protects the bigoted night raiders and punishes the victims of their violence.  Brigham says that the government is a government that looks the other way.  So he tells the cavalry man that when he see those hoodlums tell them "we're going to fight clear down to our boots and up to our necks in blood."

After the officer is gone, Brigham wonders, if Angus Duncan is the Mormon leader, than why did the officer come straight to the house of Brigham Young.  How did he know whom to choose?  And he wonders, if he is the leader, why doesn't the Lord tell him so.  Brigham calls a meeting of the community leaders.  The popular sentiment is to fight.  Angus Duncan, however, still insisting that he is the replacement for Smith, argues for a peaceful approach.  But everyone goes along with Brigham for armed resistance.

Brigham keeps thinking about the coming fight and changes his mind.  He tells everyone:  "We are leaving, tonight!"  They will cross the river into Iowa tonight.  But Duncan wants to protect his granaries and doesn't want everyone to leave.  He tries to stop the migration, but fails.  So he heads to Carthage to tell the bad guys what Brigham has planned.  They immediately call their night riders to meet.  Duncan asks them not to burn his granary, but they just tell him no.  He's just another Mormon like the others.  After all, his granaries are filled with "Mormon wheat". 

Brigham tells his people that they will meet at Sugar Creek on the other side of the river.  It is a very large group of wagons that heads to Iowa.  They are able to reach the river.  Jonathan on his horse makes sure the river is frozen solid.  It is and so the wagon trains starts the crossing.  The night riders reach the river near the end of the crossing.  They fire at the wagons and a number of people are killed or hurt.  Mrs. Kent is hit by a rifle bullet.  As all the wagons disappear from the river area, one night rider says:  "Well, if you ask me, it looks like the end of the Mormon church!"  The migrants look back and see Navoo burning.  Brigham says:  "We couldn't turn back now even if we wanted."  He then has the band play various hymns. 

Brigham and the hasty departure comes in for a great deal of criticism among his followers.  Zina decides to stay with the Kents and help with the children.  Brigham comes over to speak with Jonathan and meets Zina.  His curiosity is aroused by the fact that she is an outsider who will stay with the Mormons.  But Zina wants him to know for sure that she is not going to become a Mormon.  Given so much hate and bitterness against them, something must be wrong with the religion.  (Typical conclusion drawn by one from the majority against a defenseless minority.)

Brigham uses the church bell mounted on grain sacks to gather his people together.  He tells them that they are going to go outside of the United States.  He says they will go to Mexico.  This raises a lot of eyebrows and there seems to be mutiny in the air.  There is talk of leaving not only the community, but of leaving the faith too.  Brigham rails against this spirit.  He shouts to the crowd that for the ones who want to leave to "haul tail right now because we don't want them".  The mutiny is quelled.  (And, of course, Duncan was there to try to cheer the mutiny along.)

The wagon train continues westward.  They hold classes in the back of covered wagons.  They also have fix-it shops in some of the covered wagons.  It is a tough journey.  Crossing rivers, some wagons would start flowing down stream with the current.  Many got stuck in the mud and had to be dug out.  Angus Duncan is still with the community.  Mrs. Kent travels with the bullet still in her body.  She lays down in the back of the wagon.  Jonathan wants to drop out for awhile to make the trip easier on his mother.  But Mrs. Kent won't hear of it.  If they drop out, that would encourage other to drop out and she won't have that.  So Jonathan keeps driving on. 

They reach Council Bluffs in Iowa (just across the Missouri River from Omaha, Nebraska).  The chief of the local tribe comes out to speak to Brigham.  He already knows about Brigham and his followers.  He welcomes them to stay as long as they want.  Brigham is very grateful and tells the chief that if the tribe needs anything the Mormon will get it or make it for them.  Brigham decides to leave part of the wagon train behind.  Brigham and the others will go on to found a settlement and then have the others come to them.   Jonathan goes with Brigham.  On the way his mother dies, June 2, 1845.  They bury her along the trail. 

They reach Fort Bridger, the last outpost between the great plains and California.  They meet the famous mountain man and scout Jim Bridger.  Bridger's first question to Brigham is how many wives.  Brigham answers "twelve".  Then Angus hears about gold in California.  And now there is war with Mexico.  Duncan tells the travelers not to tell the other Mormons about the gold because they would catch gold fever.  But then Angus tells the Mormon captains about going to California to seek gold.  They will all become rich.  Jonathan gets gold fever and tells Zina all about his idea to go to California.  He just assumes that Brigham will want to go to California.  And at night Jonathan asks Zina to marry him only to discover that she had fallen asleep while he was talking. 

The group has a frog-jumping championship accompanied with gambling.  This upsets Brigham and he wants to go over and stop it.  But his first wife tells him to leave it alone and he does.  He tells his wife that he does not feel very well.  Brigham then prays to God to help him find the right place where the community could settle.  Angus threatens to leave the wagon train to head to California.  Brigham is so ill that he has to lay in the back of his wagon.  He sleeps a long time.  When he finally awakens, he discovers that they are on the western side of the Rockies.  He stops the wagon train and gets out to have a look.  Ahead of him is the Great Salt Lake basin.  Partly because he needs to do something to stop Duncan's plan to leave, Brigham decides that they will settle there.  He tells the others:  "This is the place!"  He stretches the truth as he agrees that it was a revelation that made him pick this area.  Duncan responds by calling for his followers to continue on.  But he can't find anyone who now wants to leave the group.  He has to give up his dream of gold in California. 

Brigham prays and talks about the future settlement.  He will establish Joseph Smith's United Order based on labor, love and fellowship.  He has the brass band start playing some hymns. 

In the new settlement the people bring their goods in to a common store house.  Jonathan and the unofficial law officer, Porter, are sent by Brigham back to Council Bluffs to tell the others to start for the new settlement.  They will be gone for four or five months.  When Jonathan tells Zina about this she becomes very angry.  The anger causes Jonathan to hesitate to tell her about his future plans with her, but she tells him to proceed anyway.  So he says that they should get married in the spring.  Zina starts on a rant about him eventually having multiple wives.  She says:  "Just imagine thirty wives combing your beard."  But she gives in and they kiss (finally). 

The winter turns out to be a bad one with a lot of blizzards.  Soon the whole community is short on food.  Brigham has to keep reducing the rations to the residents. 

Jonathan and Porter return.  When he returns to his house, he finds everyone hungry and Zina sick.  In looks around, but finds no food at all in the house.  Zina cries.  Jonathan brings the doctor in to examine her.  The doctors says she needs food.  She tells Jonathan that they cannot marry.  She's tried, but she just can't believe.  Jonathan swears to Zina that she will never go hungry again.  He rushes outside where he sees his young sister and brother cooking up grasshoppers to eat.  He stomps on the fire and tells them not to eat the insects.  Jonathan goes to Brigham's house to berate him.  He says:  "You promised to take care of Zina."   And just look at her.  Brigham does not say much in response.   He feels sad because of the poor situation. 

The shout goes out:  "The bugs are eating the wheat!"   They call them "crickets" but the insects are locusts and there are thousands and thousands of them.  They try to save the winter wheat crop but there are just too many locusts to kill.  While everyone is fighting the locusts, Jonathan looks for food for his family.  He breaks into a storehouse and gets some potatoes and meat.  He prepares a meal for Zina and his siblings.  He tells Zina:  "We're going to California like I promised." 

Accompanied with the locusts comes, of course, Angus to try to take advantage of the situation.  This time they push him out of the way. 

Brigham prays for help.  He says that he is licked, all done in.  He decides to tell his people the truth (including the part about the revelation).  But as he starts explaining, a huge flock of sea gulls arrive to eat the locusts.  There is great joy in the community as they see their salvation at hand. 

Zina is buoyed by the turn of events, snaps out of her depression and agrees to marry Jonathan. 


Good movie.  It's better than the 1983 version of the story.  There are big stars in this movie (Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell) and some great character actors.  The quality of the production is also better.  Both movies tell the story of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, but this one is a step above the 1983 film. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)