John Wayne Westerns on DVD
North to Alaska
The War Wagon
Director Michael Curtiz made some great films during his day, from
Casablanca to White Christmas, and his cinematic swan song is also
a great yarn.
John Wayne stars as Texas Ranger Capt. Jake Cutter, sent to bring
in a New Orleans dandy who, in a duel, killed a judges son.
Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman) isnt a bad guy, but he does seem
to invite trouble and trouble seems to think thats just fine.
But while Regret and Cutter start out as adversaries, the twists
and turns of the plot conspire to make them compatriots and comrades
in arms in a story that sees the Texas Rangers going after a mafia-like
organized crime group called, not surprisingly, The Comancheros.
These guys have built their own civilization in the
boonies and live their to their own code under the leadership of
a guy named Graile (Nehemiah Persoff), whose daughter (Ina Balin)
just happens to be the woman with whom Regret is in love.
This flick has it all: great action sequences, an excellent script,
good performances, even a rousing score by Elmer Bernstein. Wayne
is good as Cutter and Whitman also turns in a good performance as
Regret. The supporting cast is first rate as well and includes such
stalwarts as Lee Marvin, Bruce Cabot, Patrick Wayne, Michael Ansara
and Jack Elam.
The screenplay not only piles on the action, but theres a
good amount of fun stuff, too, including a gun runner under arrest
whose explanation must be heard to be appreciated.
The DVD is very good. Fox has released it with anamorphic widescreen
video, 16x9 TV compatible, and the picture quality is bright and
sharp and colorful. Audio is Dolby Digital 4.0 surround and though
there isnt a lot of surround the front three channels are
used very well - and Bernsteins score shines.
Extras include a MovieTone news featurette and the trailer.
The Comancheros, from 20th Century Fox Home Video
107 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby
Starring John Wayne, Stuart Whitman, Ina Balin, Nehemiah Persoff,
Produced by George Sherman,
Written by James Edward Grant and Clair Huffaker, Directed by Michael
North to Alaska
A change of pace for the Duke, North to Alaska sees him not as
a cowboy or war hero, but as a gold prospector sent to Seattle by
his partner in order to pick up his bride-to-be and bring her back
while the partner guards their lucrative gold mine.
Wayne is Sam McCord, a giant of a man, but a pussycat at heart.
He and partner George Pratt (Stewart Granger) and Georges
kid brother Billy (Fabian) have struck it rich and George thinks
its time to bring his beloved Jenny North to Alaska so he
can marry her.
So Sam heads south, only to find that Jenny has gone and gotten
herself married (and undoubtedly kicks herself for the rest of her
life for having let a rich husband get away). Sam wants to spare
Georges feelings, though, and he discovers another French
woman, who he calls Angel (Capucine), working in a bordello there.
He offers her a chance to sail north and be introduced to George
and, looking at the opportunity for adventure - and maybe gold -
The only problem is that while Sam is returning to Alaska with
Angel, both of them are falling in love with each other. But that
cant be, cause Sams duty was to bring back a woman
for George. So they both go through with the mission and youll
have to watch the movie to see how it ends.
Add to the mix a nogoodnik (Ernie Kovacs) who wants to get his
hands on the gold mine, and you have a recipe for mayhem, action,
and plenty of broad comedy.
The DVD is very good. Its presented in anamorphic widescreen,
16x9 TV compatible, and the picture is nice and clean, sharp, and
colorful. Audio is Dolby Digital 4.0 surround and its also
fine, though dont expect your surround channels to get much
of a workout.
Extras include the theatrical trailer, a Movietone newsreel on
the films premier, and a couple of bonus trailers.
North to Alaska, from 20th Century Fox Home Video
122 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby
Digital 4.0 audio
Starring John Wayne, Stewart Granger, Capucine, Ernie Kovacs, Fabian
Written by John Lee Mahin, Martin Rackin and Claude Binyon
Produced and directed by Henry Hathaway
Also new on DVD from Fox are the Wayne films The Undefeated (anamorphic
widescreen, 2.35:1, Dolby Digital mono) and The Big Trail (full
frame 1.33:1, Dolby Digital mono).
The War Wagon
Okay, this wont go down in history as one of the best westerns
ever made, but that doesnt mean its a stinker either.
John Wayne is Taw Jackson, recently paroled for good behavior who
returns to his old haunts to get back at the unscrupulous cattle
baron Frank Pierce (Bruce Cabot) who done him wrong and had him
Taw has a scheme to rob the bad guys War Wagon, a tank-like
stagecoach in which Pierce carries the gold he takes from the mine
he stole from him. He cant do it alone, though; the wagon
is not only an armored fortress on wheels but its accompanied
by a small army of Pierces people of hench. So he enlists
a safe cracker/gunslinger named Lomax (Kirk Douglas), Indian friend
Levi Walking Bear (Howard Keel), a strange whacko (Keenan Wynn)
and a drunken explosives expert (Robert Walker) to help him.
Its a veteran cast and a fairly lighthearted story that features
plenty of action and some nice locations. And in an interesting
bit of writing, we have Douglas character playing both ends
against the middle as hes hired by Pierce to kill Jackson,
while partnering with Jackson to rob Pierce.
The chemistry between Wayne and Douglas really works though, as
you can see by the supplementary material, the two had some serious
disagreements behind the cameras (most of which had nothing to do
with the movie itself but stemmed more from Waynes conservatism
and Douglas liberalism). Its a pretty smart script,
well directed and featuring another great Dimitri Tiomkin musical
The DVD, on the other hand, really falls down seriously. Read the
back, on the table where Universal includes the discs technical
information, and youll see that its presented in widescreen.
And it is, but whats unforgivable is that it isnt ANAMORPHIC
widescreen! So while you do get the entire image from side to side
on your screen, it doesnt expand to fit the 16x9 television
and that means owners of such TVs will have to zoom the picture
to fit the screen and this cuts way, way down on the resolution.
The result is a very pixilized picture that, while the colors are
still rich and deep, gives you jagged edges and makes it seem almost
as if youre watching the film through a screen door.
This is unforgivable in this day and age of home theater.
Audio is Dolby Digital 2 channel mono and, not surprisingly, is
For extras, you get some production notes, cast/filmmaker bios,
film highlights, and the theatrical trailer.
The War Wagon, from Unversal Home Video
101 min. widescreen letterboxed (not 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby
Digital 2.0 channel mono
Starring John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Howard Keel, Robert Walker, Keenan
Wynn, Bruce Cabot
Produced by Marvin Schwartz
Written by Clair Huffaker, Directed by Burt Kennedy
and Hondo on DVD
Big, brawlin’ and boozin’ is the formula in this loose
adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.
Wayne stars in the title role. He owns just
about everything within shooting distance of the movie, but despite
being a patriot and a successful capitalist, he’s still a
right decent guy.
Then home comes Kate, er Katherine (Maureen O’Hara, who as
always is great), George Washington McLintock’s estranged
wife who’s come home ahead of their daughter’s (Stefanie
Powers) return from school. She wants a divorce, but we know it
isn’t going to happen.
Sparks fly, fights ensue – and not just between McLintock
and Kate, but between all sorts of characters. In the end the lovebird
resume their lives of bliss and hiss together and all is well.
There’s nothing about McLintock you haven’t seen before,
but it doesn’t take itself too seriously either and so you
end up enjoying this cast party on film. The cast is obviously enjoying
itself and if no one is really stretching themselves it’s
okay this time. But don’t make a habit of it.
McLintock also stars Patrick Wayne, Jack Kruschen, Chill Wills,
Yvonne De Carlo, Jerry Van Dyke, Edgar Buchanan, Bruce Cabot, Perry
Lopez and Strother Martin.
In Hondo things are much more serious, and while not as much fun
as McLintock it’s a better movie. Wayne is Hondo Lane, a part
Apache who seems to have been everywhere and done everything.
The love interest this time is Geraldine Page, who is excellent
as the unhappy but loyal wife who falls for Hondo almost in spite
of herself. But any possible happiness they may have together is
threatened by the clash of civilizations white and red and both
of them have deep connections to both sides.
Hondo is a rich and intelligent story that shows the light and
dark in all of us; there are decent white and Indian people, but
different people have different views of honor and duty.
Also on hand in Hondo are Ward Bond, Michael Pate, and James Arness.
movies look very good on DVD. McLintock is presented in anamorphic
widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible; Hondo is 1.33:1 full frame. Audio
is offered in remixed 5.1 versions, supposedly. We didn’t
notice a lot of surround in McLintock, though there was noticeable
surround use in Hondo.
Each DVD comes packed with extras, too, including a nice introduction
by Leonard Maltin.
Dunno why they bother with the menu item for Leonard Maltin’s
introduction, ‘cause when you press “Play Movie”
you get it anyway. Fortunately, you can jump ahead to skip it if
you’ve already seen it.
Both movies also have commentary tracks, “making of”
features, BATJAC (Wayne’s production company) featurettes,
photo galleries, teaser and trailers and more. They’re pretty
good packages and it’s nice to see the Duke being given his
McLintock, from Paramount Home Entertainment
127 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby
Digital 5.1 surround
Starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara
Produced by Michael Wayne
Written by James Edward Grant, directed by Andrew V. McLaglen
Hondo, from Paramount Home Entertainment
83 min. full frame (1.33:1, not 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital
Starring John Wayne, Geradline Page
Produced by Robert Fellows
Written by James Edward Grant, directed by John Farrow
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