Wagons East! (stylised onscreen as Wagons East) is a 1994 American Western adventure comedy film directed by Peter Markle. The film stars John Candy and Richard Lewis. The film was released in the United States on August 26, 1994.
During the film's production in Durango, Mexico, John Candy died of a heart attack, six days before the film was to be completed. Script re-writes, a stand-in and special effects were used to complete his remaining scenes and it was released five months after his death. The film marked one of John Candy's last film appearances although it was not his last film release. His last film, Canadian Bacon, which he had completed before Wagons East!, had a delayed release in 1995.
In the 1860s Wild West, a group of misfit settlers including ex-doctor Phil Taylor (Lewis), prostitute Belle (Ellen Greene), and homosexual bookseller Julian (John C. McGinley) decide they cannot live in their current situation in the west, so they hire a grizzled alcoholic wagon master by the name of James Harlow (Candy) to take them on a journey back to their hometowns in the East.
Comedic exploits ensue as the drunken wagon master lets his horse choose the correct fork in the road, leads them to a dried out watering hole, and eventually guides them into Sioux territory where they are captured. The Chief (Russell Means), however, is sympathetic to the idea of 'white-men heading back east', and offers an escort off Sioux land. Meanwhile, they must also contend with (inept) hired gunslingers who have been sent by railroad magnates to stop the journey, as they fear the bad publicity it could create for the settlers about to commence a 'land-rush' into the west.
Harlow's secret, that he had been wagon master for the infamous Donner Party, eventually comes out, and the group confront Harlow about his past; he chooses to walk away from the group and they proceed on their own. As he resumes his drinking at the closest tavern, he overhears that the cavalry will be confronting the group the following day, and intends to wipe them out, as directed by the head of the railroad company.
As the cavalry arrives the next day, and the group 'square their wagons', Harlow rides in to the rescue and 'calls out' the cavalry leader to single combat. After a drawn out and comical fight scene, Harlow is victorious, and the group celebrates.
Harlow and Belle decide to pursue a relationship, Julian departs for somewhere 'even further west' (San Francisco) and the group rides toward the now visible St. Louis to finish the journey.John Candy as James Harlow
Richard Lewis as Phil Taylor
John C. McGinley as Julian
Ellen Greene as Belle
Robert Picardo as Ben Wheeler
Russell Means as Chief
Rodney A. Grant as Little Feather
Ed Lauter as John Slade
Lochlyn Munro as Billy
Don Lake as Lt. Bailey
Ethan Phillips as Commander S.L. Smedly
Charles Rocket as Gen. Larchmont
The film was released five months after Candy's death, and despite being Candy's posthumous release, the film was a box office bomb.
The film has a 0% approval rating on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 29 critics' reviews. The consensus is, "Wagons East! is a witless, toothless satire of Westerns that falls far below the standard set by Blazing Saddles, and is notable only for being John Candy's final screen performance." Film critic Roger Ebert, who called the film "a sad way to end John Candy's career", stated that his legacy was already permanent and would survive this film.
In the book The Comedy Film Nerds Guide to Movies, Wagons East! is listed at number one on its list of The Ten Worst Westerns.