FORTY GUNS --- BROKEN LANCE --- DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK ---BUFFALO BILL --- THE BRAVADOS --- WARLOCK --- IN OLD ARIZONA (TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX HOME ENTERTAINMENT )
TALL IN THE SADDLE --- THE TRAIN ROBBERS (WARNER HOME ENTERTAINMENT)
THE SCALPHUNTERS --- HOUR OF THE GUN --- ESCORT WEST (MGM HOME ENTERTAINMENT)
THREE VIOLENT PEOPLE --- JOHNNY RENO --- HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (PARAMOUNT HOME VIDEO)
I admit it. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Western fan and it's been my very pleasant task to view close to thirty-seven "oaters" that have recently been introduced into the dvd marketplace, out of which I've chosen the following sixteen as the "pick of the litter."
FORTY GUNS (1957) is directed by Samuel Fuller, which means it's raw, tough and gritty. It stars Barbara Stanwyck, the only Golden Age female superstar qualified to sit on a horse. It costars two actors (Barry Sullivan and Gene Barry) who never learned how to deliver an indifferent performance. But the most invigorating element on display here is the work of John Ericson who, as a really, really bad critter, energizes the entire enterprise with the creepy enthusiasm of a man who relishes his deadly work.
BROKEN LANCE (1954) features Spencer Tracy as a tough-as-nails cattle baron at odds with ambitious son Richard Widmark. The passion and intensity of these two towering performances is the reason this is one of the very few instances where this remake of HOUSE OF STRANGERS is vastly superior to the original.
DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK (1939) boasts fine performances by Claudette Colbert, Henry Fonda, and Oscar-nominated Edna May Oliver, but this Revolutionary War tale benefits most from the fact that it is director John Ford's first Technicolor film and continuously stunning to look at.
BUFFALO BILL(1944) may be a highly fanciful account of the legendary frontiersman's life, but it stars Joel McCrea, Maureen O'Hara and Linda Darnell, which is all you really need to know. And it's in Technicolor, too.
THE BRAVADOS (1958) is a humorless and relentlessly dark tale of murder and revenge that occasionally stings thanks to a fine cast headed by Gregory Peck and an ending that is somewhat unexpected. But what is Joan Collins doing here? Oh, I get it. She was under contract and had nothing to do. Not surprisingly, she does nothing here.
WARLOCK (1959) is a small frontier mining community terrorized by a vicious outlaw gang. Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn are summoned by the citizens to clean up the town, which they accomplish with cool efficiency. But do I detect subtle hints that Fonda and Quinn are--uh--more than just good friends? (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
IN OLD ARIZONA (1929) is the very first outdoor sound feature (is that a microphone I see behind that cactus?) and is a virtual tutorial about the myriad of challenges the new medium introduced and on that basis is an interesting, if unintentionally hilarious, experience.
TALL IN THE SADDLE (1944) stars John Wayne and while surprises and originality (who needs them?) are nowhere to be found, this is comfort food at its most comfortable.
THE TRAIN ROBBERS (1972) is a light-hearted John Wayne Western lark that never annoys, and is probably the most enjoyable of his mostly insubstantial later films.
THE SCALPHUNTERS (1968), on the other hand , is a deftly-written and surprisingly witty and wise Western action film that features irresistibly tongue-in-cheek performances from Burt Lancaster, Shelley Winters and Ossie Davis. Don't be put off by the title, which fails to convey the raucous humor that makes this sadly misunderstood and forgotten gem such a pleasure.
HOUR OF THE GUN (1967) was director John Sturges' follow-up to his earlier success THE GUNFIGHT AT O.K. CORRAL and was totally ignored upon its initial release and even disowned by Sturges himself. ("I have no one to blame but myself for that one," he told me.) It's now widely considered, and correctly so, to be a thoughtful and eloquent statement about the taming of the West and vastly superior to its glossy and artificial prequel. James Garner and Jason Robards are fine as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday, while the magnificent Robert Ryan as Ike Clanton is --well--magnificent.
ESCORT WEST (1959) is a perfectly efficient 76 minute B-Western that has the underrated Victor Mature battling heroically against both the Indians and the fiancee of the woman he's fallen in love with .
JOHNNY RENO (1966) is right from the Western bargain basement of producer A.C. Lyles, but Dana Andrews and Jane Russell are in the basement, so all is not lost.
A year ago we called Paramount's box-set of HAVE GUN--WILL TRAVEL (The Complete First Season) the best Western television release of the year and while nothing has happened to change our mind, we have to acknowledge that HAVE GUN--WILL TRAVEL (The Complete Second Season) is even better, so much so that we find the prospect of having to wait another year for Season Three to be quite dispiriting.
The anamorphic color transfers of BROKEN LANCE, WARLOCK, THE TRAIN ROBBERS, THE SCALPHUNTERS, HOUR OF THE GUN, and JOHNNY RENO are far better than average but the anamorphic transfer of THE BRAVADOS is nothing less than superb, and boasts a bold 4.0 Dolby Surround track, as does LANCE. The full-screen 3-strip Technicolor DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK looks surprisingly good and is certainly better than that of BUFFALO BILL. The full-screen black and white transfers of HAVE GUN--WILL TRAVEL look crisp and clear , while TALL IN THE SADDLE looks quite good. The full-screen transfer of IN OLD ARIZONA looks--well--old. FORTY GUNS and ESCORT WEST look better-than-average in their black-and-white anamorphic incarnations and the monaural sound on all is distortion-free.