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Archive for the ‘Criterion’ Category

Since Monte Hellman’s The Shooting and Ride In The Whirlwind (both 1966) come from outside the parameter of 50s Westerns, I placed the review of the Criterion twin-bill on my other blog. Click on the package above to mosey over thee.

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Written, Produced, Directed by Samuel Fuller
Cinematography: Joseph Biroc
Art Direction: John Mansbridge
Music: Harry Sukman
Film Editing: Gene Fowler Jr.

Cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Jessica Drummond), Barry Sullivan (Griff Bonnell), Dean Jagger (Sheriff Ned Logan), John Ericson (Brockie Drummond), Gene Barry (Wes Bonnell), Robert Dix (Chico Bonnell), Jidge Carroll (Barney Cashman), Paul Dubov (Judge Macy), Gerald Milton (Shotgun Spanger), Ziva Rodann (Rio), Hank Worden (Marshal John Chisum)

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With a Sam Fuller movie, there’s always something kinda off. Not off in a bad way, off as in different from anything else you’ve ever seen — except another Sam Fuller movie. The performances, pacing, editing, dialogue — they’re just different. And that’s before you get to the story itself.

A great example of this is Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957). It’s unlike any Western you’ve ever seen.

Forty Guns is a big sweeping epic on one hand and a glorified Regalscope picture on the other. There’s a scene pretty early in the movie where John Ericson and his gang of punks are busting up the town. They throw stuff, shoot stuff and just generally create total mayhem. Fuller cuts back and forth across the street as they shoot from one side and their bullets hit windows or whatever on the other side — then to the helpless, wigged-out townspeople watching all this. The footage doesn’t cut together in the smooth, traditional Hollywood way, but it perfectly creates the chaos and movement the scene needs.

Barbara Stanwyck is terrific as Jessica Drummond, a female take on the rancher who runs the town. Barry Sullivan is Griff Bonnell, a former gunman now working for the government. So far, it sounds like one of your standard B Western plots — how many times was Roy Rogers a government agent? But that’s where the similarities end, as Forty Guns goes off in directions only Sam Fuller would even think of taking it. And he’s got a cast and crew eager to help him get there.

It has one of the damnedest opening sequences I’ve ever seen, as the Drummond and her 40 guns come thundering along a deserted and pass by Sullivan and his brothers. I’d love to experience it on a big curved CinemaScope screen.

But from one end to the other, Forty Guns is a movie absolutely filled with striking images, cooked up by Fuller and delivered in gorgeous B&W CinemaScope by Joseph Biroc — and all flawlessly captured on Blu-Ray by Criterion. They’ve really got the contrast perfectly dialed-in on this one. Wish every black and white movie looked like this on video — everybody who helps bring old movies to TV and video needs to take a look at this.

Of course, it’s got a typically Criterion-ish slew of extras — interviews, a documentary, even a chapter of Fuller’s autobiography. It’s a pretty deep dive, and it’s always a treat to wallow in Sam Fuller. He was a real character, a true original and one helluva filmmaker. Highly, highly recommended.

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Directed by Sam Fuller
Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Dean Jagger, John Ericson, Gene Barry

Criterion has announced a December 11 date for their edition of Sam Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957). The extras sound terrific and I can’t wait to see its black and white Scope in high definition.

This is one of those movies where you find something new to be dazzled by each time you see it. Absolutely essential.

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960

Back in 2014, gathering everybody’s favorite DVD and Blu-Ray picks for the year turned out to be a lot of fun. It’s since become an annual thing.

Thanks to everybody who sent in their picks for 2016. This was a great year for 50s Westerns on DVD and Blu-Ray (and 2017 is shaping up to be just as good, or maybe better). Here’s the Top 10, according to your votes.

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10. Desperado (1954, Warner Archive, DVD)
It was a tie between this Wayne Morris picture and his earlier Desert Pursuit (1952). They’re both solid, offbeat little Westerns — and it’s real treat to have them available in such stellar condition.

9. Yellow Sky (1948, Kino Lorber, Blu-Ray)
Thanks to William Wellman, we didn’t have to wait till the 50s for Hollywood to start making 50s Westerns. The town of Yellow Sky is populated by only an old prospector and his daughter — until some slimy outlaws come riding up.

8. Western Union (1941, Kino Lorber, Blu-Ray)
Randolph Scott in Fritz Lang’s second Technicolor movie. There’s so much cool stuff in this movie, and it looks wonderful.

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7. Black Horse Canyon (1954, Universal Vault, DVD)
For years, Joel McCrea’s Universal Westerns were missing on DVD. It’s great to have them so easy to track down. This is a good one.

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6. Comanche Station (1960, Explosive Media, Blu-Ray)
The last of the Scott-Boetticher Westerns turns out to be the first to make its way to Blu-Ray, and as I see it, the others can’t get here soon enough. This thing’s incredible.

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5. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1948, Warner Archive, Blu-Ray)
John Ford’s She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1948, above) is one of the most beautiful color movies ever shot. The proof is pressed oh-so-magnificently into this Blu-Ray. It also features one of John Wayne’s finest performances.

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4. Roughshod (1949, Warner Archive, DVD)
This gets my vote as the best of the “noir Westerns.” I was real happy to see the response this picture got. It’s a shame it’s not better known.

3. Cariboo Trail (1950, Kino Lorber, DVD/Blu-Ray)
The transfer here is a minor miracle, demonstrating how good CineColor can look. They wisely didn’t go overboard with the cleanup, so it still retains its true film look. And, of course, this is a solid picture from Edwin Marin and Randolph Scott.

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2. Johnny Guitar (1954, Olive Films Signature Edition, DVD/Blu-Ray)
Olive’s new Signature edition is a marked improvement over their old release, which was terrific. The restored 1.66 framing makes a big difference, and the supplemental stuff is excellent.

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1. One-Eyed Jacks (1961, Criterion Collection, DVD/Blu-Ray)
Opinions of Marlon Brando’s Western are all over the place, so I was really surprised to see it land in the top spot. However, judging it simply in terms of its superb presentation, I don’t see how anything could beat it. It’s stunning, a big fat reward to all of us who’ve suffered through those awful tapes and discs over the years. I’m proud and honored to have been involved with Criterion’s work here. (Note: Having worked on the One-Eyed Jacks extras, I did not feel comfortable taking part in the vote this time around.)

In closing, the discs on this list highlight the impact the video presentation can have on our appreciation of these old movies. Many of these have been available, in some form, for years. One more thing: your reasons for not buying a Blu-Ray player are rapidly running out.

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Directed by Marlon Brando
Starring Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Katy Jurado, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens, Timothy Carey, Hank Worden

This, folks, is a dream come true. At long last, One-Eyed Jacks (1961) is making its way to DVD and Blu-ray, in a version that will actually be worth watching. Not just that, but fully restored (by the FIlm Foundation, supervised by Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg) and presented by the Criterion Collection.

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I was able to help out with a “video essay” on the film’s tangled production and mangled editing — basically, my book boiled down to 20 minutes or so. It’s been a joy and a real honor to be part of this project. Like I said, a dream come true.

The official list of features:
• New 4K digital restoration, undertaken with the support of The Film Foundation and supervised by filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
• New introduction by Scorsese
• Excerpts from voice-recordings director and star Marlon Brando made during the film’s production
• New video essays on the film’s production history and its potent combination of the stage and screen icon Brando with the classic Hollywood western
• Trailer
• An essay by film critic Howard Hampton

Judging from a DVD screener, the restoration is beautiful. If you’re a fan of the movie, and you get a chance to see a theatrical screening, go. And be sure to pick up this Criterion edition. One-Eyed Jacks hasn’t looked like this in decades.

 

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