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35mm-shippers

This will be the fourth year we’ve done this, and it’s always a lot of fun. Between now and New Year’s Eve, send me your favorite DVD and Blu-ray releases for the year — I’ll do all the accounting and put together our Best Of 2016 list. The only requirements: they have to have been released during the 2016 calendar year, somewhere on Planet Earth, and have some relation to 50s Westerns. So many great things showed up on DVD, or got a stellar Blu-Ray upgrade, this year, I wanted to give us all some extra time to pull things together.

One of the real joys of this blog, as I see it, is all the sharing and recommending that goes on. So while you’re at it, let me know what your favorite Discoveries were for 2016. Doesn’t matter if it’s been on DVD for years, you saw it on GetTV last week or borrowed a bootleg from a friend — what 50s Westerns did you get acquainted with this year?

For both lists, drop your picks in the comments to this post or email fiftieswesterns AT gmail DOT com.

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Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by Herbert J. Yates
Screenplay by Philip Yordan
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Sr.
Film Editor: Richard L. Van Enger
Original Music by Victor Young and Peggy Lee

Cast: Joan Crawford (Vienna), Sterling Hayden (Johnny Guitar), Mercedes McCambridge (Emma Small), Scott Brady (Dancin’ Kid), Ward Bond (John McIvers), Ben Cooper (Turkey Ralston), Ernest Borgnine (Bart Lonergan), John Carradine (Old Tom), Royal Dano (Corey), Paul Fix (Eddie)

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s-l1600-15Johnny Guitar (1954) has always been one of my favorite 50s Westerns.

Now, I could go on and on about how it’s a Feminist Western, a Psychological Western, an Existential Western, an HUAC allegory and lots of other things — or maybe it’s none of those. Depends on how you look at it.

I could rattle off a list of prominent filmmakers who’ve cited it as an influence or a favorite. I could cover its incredible cast, surely one of the best assembled for a 50s Western (and that’s saying something), or Victor Young’s terrific score — even that great instrumental version of the title song by The Spotnicks.

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I could even mention that at one point, there was talk of Jack Webb turning it into a TV series. Maybe it’s best to not get me started on Johnny Guitar at all.

But that’s not what this is about, not today anyway. It turns out Johnny Guitar is also one of the finest Blu-Rays I’ve ever seen.

Of course, Olive Films brought it out a few years ago, and it was marvelous. Some of us griped about it not reflecting Nick Ray’s original 1.66 cropping (I’m among the guilty), but the overall quality more than made up for it.

Well, Olive’s new Signature edition, it leaves the old release in the red, Sedona dust. This is a case where what a movie looks like on video can have a substantial impact on your appreciation of it. I saw details I’d never seen, and the restored 1.66 framing revealed little hints of Ray’s eye for color and composition (and his overall genius) that have escaped me for decades. In short, it made this great movie seem even greater.

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The extras — Martin Scorsese intro, commentary, documentaries, trailer, etc. — are outstanding, covering everything from the film and its many interpretations to Nicholas Ray to Republic pictures. Still haven’t made my way through them all. This is a movie that deserves, and stands up to, all the analysis that’s heaped on it, and this package does it justice.

I’m not here to tell you how to spend your money. So I’ll just say that if I won the lottery, I’d buy a few cases of these and send you all one. And if you hadn’t made the switch to Blu-Ray, well, I’d have to help you out with that, too. This one gets my highest recommendation.

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Directed by James Neilson
Starring James Stewart, Audie Murphy, Dan Duryea, Dianne Foster, Elaine Stewart, Brandon de Wilde, Jay C. Flippen, Robert J. Wilke, Hugh Beaumont

This is one some of us have really been waiting for — Night Passage (1957) is finally coming to Blu-Ray, where it most certainly belongs. Elephant Films out of France have announced its hi-def debut for March 2017.

Shot in Technirama, a high-fidelity combination of VistaVision and anamorphic widescreen, this picture is as sharp as the movies ever got. And with loads of incredible location work in Durango, Colorado, it’s stunning.

The movie itself, while it’s no masterpiece, has been unjustly maligned. You’ll find the story behind all that in a post from a few year ago. It’s still one of my favorite pieces, thanks in large part to the terrific discussion that cropped up in the comments.

Thanks to Allen Smithee for the news.

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Directed by Raoul Walsh
Starring Rock Hudson, Donna Reed, Phil Carey, Roberta Haynes, Leo Gordon, Lee Marvin, Neville Brand

Raoul Walsh said he didn’t like CinemaScope, but was excited about 3-D. Funny, given that he only had one eye and couldn’t see depth. He’d end up using Scope a few times, but he’d go with 3-D just once, with 1953’s Gun Fury.

It’s a pretty simple chase/revenge story, as Rock Hudson goes after Phil Carey, who’s kidnapped Donna Reed. Of course, Walsh applies his typical speed and efficiency — and the picture moves like a rocket.

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Twilight Time has announced a 2-D/3-D Blu-Ray release of Gun Fury for 2017. Personally, I’m more excited about the proper framing than I am 3-D. This is a really solid picture.

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Directed by Delmer Daves
Starring James Stewart, Jeff Chandler, Debra Paget, Will Greer, Arthur Hunnicutt

Delmer Daves’ Broken Arrow (1950) is a great film. I tend to overlook it since I’m so head over heels in love with James Stewart’s other Western of 1950, Winchester ’73.

Broken Arrow‘s Technicolor photography, by Ernest Palmer, is breathtaking. And with a new 2K restoration, the upcoming Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber is sure to be a real stunner. There’s no official release date yet, but it’s coming in early 2017. This one will be essential, folks.

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Directed by Ray Enright
Starring Errol Flynn, Alexis Smith, S.Z. ‘Cuddles’ Sakall

Warner Archive is re-issuing some of the Errol Flynn Westerns that once made up a really terrific DVD set. Virginia City (1940), San Antonio (1945), Montana (1950) and Rocky Mountain (1950) will be available, singly, in January.

Montana co-stars Alexis Smith, was directed by Ray Enright and shot by Karl Freund — they’d recently completed the Joel McCrea picture South Of Saint Louis (1949).

Flynn, Smith and the great S.Z. ‘Cuddles’ Sakall had also appeared together in San Antonio (1945), which takes Flynn to The Alamo.

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Rocky Mountain (1950), Flynn’s last Western, gets my vote for his best cowboy picture. It’s really something else.

Virginia City (1940) has a stellar cast that includes Randolph Scott and Humphrey Bogart (as a Mexican bandit).

It’s good to know these are readily available again for folks who missed them the first time around. I’d love to see some of these crop up on Blu-Ray, too!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Here are Roy Rogers, The Sons Of The Pioneers and a turkey — ready to sit down and enjoy a Thanksgiving feast. Well, I guess the turkey’s not enjoying it so much. This is from Utah (1945.)

Hope you all have a joyous day, and that all your travels are smooth and safe.