The ageless allure of life in the Old West is just as timely as ever with these six classics, now available on Blu-ray courtesy the efforts of Twilight Time and the Warner Archive Collection. Boasting many common themes (including a few connections between home media distributors!) and ranging from early cinematic 3D productions to the earliest revisionist westerns by genre rule-breaker Sam Peckinpah, there's an awful lot of reason to shoot up the joint over here.
Gun Fury 3D (1953, Twilight Time, Limited Edition of 3,000)
One of several movies conceived and released during the early '50s 3D phenomenon (and one of the few 3D movies to be helmed by a one-eyed director!), Columbia Pictures' Gun Fury finds the one and only Rock Hudson as a mild-mannered rancher (and Civil War veteran) who is ready to start a new life with Donna Reed. Alas, he's just about to be drafted into another war ‒ a private one ‒ when slimy Philip Carey decides he wants Reed for himself, and makes the fatal mistake of leaving the Rock for dead in the dust. And that's how Raoul Walsh's fun Technicolor adventure co-starring a magnificent assortment of ad guys, including Leo Gordon (in a marvelous supporting role as Carey's uncertain flunky), Lee Marvin, and Neville Brand.
Offered up in both 3D and 2D presentations (the latter of which will automatically play if you do not have a 3D setup), Twilight Time's 1080p transfer of this groovy little gem from the Sony Pictures vault is a bit of a mixed saddle bag. There are a number of rough spots throughout, which is something we sadly can only attribute to time and vintage film stock. As for the transfer itself, Gun Fury is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio (which has been stretched out a bit from a 1.77:1 ratio or so) with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono soundtrack and optional all-caps English (SDH) subtitles in tow. Extras consist of a partial isolated score in DTS-HD MA 2.0 (the score was made up from recycled music cues), 3D/2D theatrical trailers, and liner notes by Julie Kirgo.
The Law and Jake Wade (1958, Warner Archive Collection)
Like the previous title, John (The Magnificent Seven) Sturges' The Law and Jake Wade finds another Civil War veteran trying to start anew ‒ this time in the guise of Robert Taylor (in his final top-billed A-list role). Here, Taylor is a former bad guy-turned-small town sheriff who is forced to face his demons a bit prematurely when his nutso ex-partner ‒ another silver screen lunatic as brought to life by the brilliant Richard Widmark ‒ busts out of stir to stalk his ol' pal Jake, who carries with him the secret burial location of their last heist together. The superb ensemble cast (complete with another recycled music score) includes the likes of Patricia Owens, Robert Middleton, Henry Silva, and future Star Trek icon DeForest Kelley!
Making its High-Definition debut from the WAC, MGM's The Law and Jake Wade has gone through an extensive restoration process. Much like Gun Fury, the original elements for this title had deteriorated over time some. Fortunately, Warner's imaging facility has done its best to correct the issues which had previously plagued the print, resulting in a very fine-looking (overall, that is; the transfer was a little heavy on the red hues for my eyes) 1080p transfer preserving the film's widescreen CinemaScope aspect ratio. Accompanying the feature is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono soundtrack and English (SDH) subtitles. A lone theatrical trailer, also served up in High-Defintion, is the sole bonus item included with this release.
Ride the High Country (1962, Warner Archive Collection)
There weren't many movies to knock out Fellini's 8 ½ at European film festivals that year. In fact, there was only one: an early American revisionist western from a rising director named Sam Peckinpah. 55 years later, Ride the High Country still packs a punch. Here, Joel McCrea is a down-on-his-luck ex-lawman (and ex-Union soldier, naturally) hired to guard a escort of shipment of gold. The great Randolph Scott shines as McCrea's former partner, who works as a sharpshooter in a sideshow before joining his old friend to deliver the gold along with young, eager Ron Starr. Mariette Hartley co-stars as a runaway who joins the men, adds to a list of ever-mounting tensions between our aged gunslingers as their true natures emerge.
Although it may have only been Peckinpah's second film, he already knew how to stock a movie with supporting players, as one will surely witness in Ride the High Country. Among the familiar faces here are Edgar Buchanan, R.G. Armstrong, L.Q. Jones, Warren Oates, and Byron Foulger. A DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono soundtrack accompanies the Warner Archive's flawless new 2K scan of this masterpiece. Twilight Time founder Nick Redman is joined by fellow Peckinpah enthusiasts Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle for an audio commentary. The WAC offering also features a short documentary from the aforementioned Mr. Redman (in 480p, as produced for the 2006 DVD) and the movie's original theatrical trailer.
Hour of the Gun (1967, Twilight Time, Limited Edition of 3,000)
John Sturges returns to his 1957 hit, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (which starred Seven Days in May stars Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas). While it begins where the other classic left off ‒ with the climactic, history-making showdown itself ‒ Sturges sticks closer to the facts this time, presenting us with a fascinating character study of Wyatt Earp (the inimitable James Garner) and his alcoholic colleague Doc Holliday (Jason Robards, in a truly remarkable performance). The equally fascinating presence of motion picture icon Robert Ryan (no stranger to Twilight Time releases) co-stars as Ike Clanton, who survives the opening gundown this time, only to pursue several different methods of vengeance against Earp and company.
Also appearing here are the talents of Albert Salmi, Steve Ihnat (a fairly minor player in the world of big-screen performers, but who gets to show off his stuff quite sufficiently), William Windom, Lonny Chapman, William Schallert, and a young Jon Voight. Twilight Time's 1080p transfer of this United Artists release is a marked improvement over MGM's 2005 DVD, though the HD print MGM loaned to Twilight Time appears to have hailed from the same point in time (and does not appear to have been restored). The disc sports a DTS-HD MA 1.0 soundtrack with optional English (SDH) subtitles, an isolated music/effects track in DTS-HD MA 2.0, and the original UA trailer. Liner notes by Robert Ryan's biggest fan herself, Julie Kirgo, wrap this good flick up.
The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970, Warner Archive Collection)
Following on the heels of his controversial 1969 hit The Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpah took a major detour from his normal (bloody) approach the next decade. And although The Ballad of Cable Hogue proved to be a disappointment when first released, the non-violent western dramedy starring Jason Robards, Stella Stevens, and David Warner has gone on to become a cult classic in its own right over the decades that have followed. Robards is in fine form as a desert rat who ‒ after being left to die of thirst in the sun-scorched sands by L.Q. Jones and Strother Martin (the latter of whom could very well play the most adorably pitiful villain ever here) ‒ finds an underground spring in the middle of a long, dry, and dusty stretch of road.
Ms. Stevens plays the local town's prostitute, who enjoys a turbulent relationship with Robards. David Warner is in particularly fine form as a phony, philandering reverend in this tale set at the end of Old West itself. The Warner Archive Collection provides us with another new 2K scan for The Ballad of Cable Hogue, the results of which are gorgeous. A DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono soundtrack and English (SDH) subtitles are included. Like Ride the High Country, this WAC release features an audio commentary from Twilight Time's Nick Redman along with Peckinpah scholars Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle; an documentary short from Mr. Redman (in 480p); and lastly, the movie's original theatrical trailer (in HD).
Lawman (1971, Twilight Time, Limited Edition of 3,000)
Gritty to behold, but fascinating to look at, this violent picture from Michael Winner (Death Wish) sets its sights on one very focused anti-hero amid a cast of meticulously mysterious characters. At the helm of the performers is a stalwart Burt Lancaster as a lone Lawman whose persistence has earned him the nickname of "The Widowmaker." He's the sort of feller who drinks coffee in the saloon and plays the flute in his room. But he's also the type of guy who won't back down in his single-handed plight to capture several of cattle baron Lee J. Cobb's men after a drunken stampede through Lancaster's town results in an accidental casualty. Tracking each man down, Lancaster offers them two choices: a short trial or a quick death.
The great Robert Ryan co-stars as a cowardly, corrupted sheriff to Cobb's surprisingly human rancher in this "psychological western" where the roles of good and evil are somewhat reversed. The amazing supporting cast includes Robert Duvall, Sheree North, Albert Salmi, Joseph Wiseman, Richard Jordan, John Beck, John McGiver, Ralph Waite, and a sublimely silent John Hillerman. The 1080p transfer from MGM used for this Twilight Time release is positively beautiful throughout, and is accompanied by a DTS-HD MA Mono soundtrack. Optional English (SDH) subtitles are available for this release. Bonus materials include an isolated score of Jerry Fielding's work in DTS-HD MA 2.0, the film's original theatrical trailer and liner notes from Julie Kirgo.
The Law and Jake Wade, Ride the High Country, and The Ballad of Cable Hogue are all available now from the Warner Archive Collection. Gun Fury, Hour of the Gun, and Lawmanare Limited Edition releases from Twilight Time, and are reserved to only 3,000 copies, while supplies last.