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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Biography > Horses > Show Business > Child Abuse > Western > Civil War > Drama > Melodrama > S > Buck (2010/IFC/MPI DVD)/The Comancheros (1961/Fox Blu-ray)/Horse Soldiers (1959/MGM Blu-ray)/The Righteous & The Wicked (2011/Lionsgate DVD)/3 Women (1977/Criterion Blu-ray)

Buck (2010/IFC/MPI DVD)/The Comancheros (1961/Fox Blu-ray)/Horse Soldiers (1959/MGM Blu-ray)/The Righteous & The Wicked (2011/Lionsgate DVD)/3 Women (1977/Criterion Blu-ray)


Picture: C/B-/B-/C+/B     Sound: C+/B-/B-/C+/B-     Extras: B/B-/C-/C-/B-     Films: B/B-/B-/C-/B-



The Western genre is dead, yet it still casts a long shadow and in diverse ways.  It haunts all kinds of films and other projects to this day, still not totally understood and in most cases, regressive these days.  To show the range of influence, I have combined the following new releases to make my point.


Cindy Meehl’s Buck (2010) is an outstanding documentary about the life story of Buck Brannaman, a child star along with his brother who played rodeos and did tricks for a father who lied about being a cowboy and when their mother died young, took his occasional drunken abuse and made it a non-stop ordeal that the two barely survived.  As an adult, he stayed with horses and founded landmark ways to train and work with horses so innovative, he became the inspiration for The Horse Whisperer book and film.  This is not just a look at his life, or his family or the industries of horses, cowboys and entertainment, but a character study about U.S. culture and how its violence permeates the Country, Western and Old South in ways that are all too easily sanctioned.  The Brannaman Brothers were lucky they overcame their horrible circumstance.


A companion to Temple Grandin (reviewed elsewhere on this site) as another person who overcame horrible odds to become a great success in life thanks to a connection with horses, I wanted this to go on longer, but it runs a solid 89 minutes rich with rare clips, stills and new interviews.  Fortunately, extras include deleted scenes along with a trailer and a feature length audio commentary with Buck Brannaman and Director Meehl.


Next come two John Wayne films on Blu-ray.  We previously reviewed Michael Curtiz’s The Comancheros (1961) on DVD in a nice box set of Wayne’s work and you can read more about that at this link:





Extras are the same and this is a better edition playback-wise than that DVD, but more on that in a minute.  We also have John Ford’s The Horse Soldiers (1959) which is one their lesser-known collaborations even though they are joined by William Holden, Constance Towers, Anna Lee, Ken Curtis, Denver Pyle and Strother Martin among them, but it also happens to be Ford’s only Civil War film!  In that, it is uneven, a little more melodramatic than usual for him and having the Union as somewhat evil seems underhanded, but you could do an essay on that aspect of the film and Wayne’s politics (think The Alamo and The Green Berets) were explicitly coming out of his work.  There is still some good work here and it is interesting to watch for its problems, so it is worth a look, especially for those obsessed with The Civil War and have not seen it.  A trailer is the only extra.  The two are typical of the latter films of the genre and archetypal of the Right-Wing, male dominated heart and center of the genre for better and worse.


Craig A. Butler’s The Righteous & The Wicked (2011) is the latest of a series of bad would-be Westerns that want to be A-level fare but are really B-movies and do not know it following every cliché and formula they can come up with.  I did get a few chuckles, but it is poor and even if the makers love such films as they mighty from some moments here, it is far from enough to make this work.  A trailer gallery, feature length audio commentary with Director Butler & Co-Star Billy Garberina and interview-filled making of featurette are the drawn-out extras.


Finally is my oddest choice, but it fits more than you might think.  Robert Altman is a filmmaker whose look at American and Cinema were co-obsessions, journeys to the dark side of both that showed great cinematic literacy and the guts to go where no one had gone before.  When he finally found his voice deconstructing various film genres his way, M*A*S*H (1970, reviewed elsewhere on this site) featured dark humor, some truly funny moments and the first explicit criticism of that culture.  The studio had it say it was set in Korea, but the costumes and situation are all Vietnam.


Brewster McCloud (1970) followed in a more explicit fashion, then came his deconstructionist Western McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) in which the Western critique was at full force and it never totally left his films.  The epic Nashville (1975) set in the world of Country Music of the time said that criticism was even more relevant in modern times, making that film a hit and huge critical success.  So while he examined all kinds of films, he kept coming back to Westerns.  Buffalo Bill & The Indians (1976) was the very next film and it did not work out, so when a version of Ragtime fell through when Warner Bros. expected too many restrictions on him, he left (eventually being made as a big disappointment by Milos Forman).


Though 3 Women (1977) may only seem like a melodrama, deconstructive melodrama, different kind of “women’s film” and surreal serio-comedy that owes something to the films of Ingmar Bergman, it is rarely discussed in the context of a Western, but clearly is another mediation on it.


Shelley Duvall is Millie, a woman alone who talks all the time, but has no real friends and works at a spa for old people in their final/dying years.  One day, Pinky (Sissy Spacek hot off of De Palma’s Carrie) shows up and gets into her life.  They are both dysfunctional and not all there, with Pinky practically a child (childlike as much as childish) and things take an odder turn when they become roommates, but it is certain that they are toxic types and not healthy of reach other.


Millie’s apartment is a phony building that might have been a motel once, painted in almost bright colors and with a phony/upbeat name that all scream artifice, but also reflects her artifice.  The pool has painting by Willie (Janice Rule) who turns out to be pregnant by her drunken husband and the surreal works offer sexualized, mythological creatures and people in stark, dangerous and even deadly situations.  Their worlds will all soon clash in this dreamlike cinematic work by Altman.


However, that does not mean the film always works.  It was a hit and the casting is a plus, but it has some issues.  For one, it wants to tell the story about women, but it is always more obviously than many have noted a male viewpoint film, no matter how sympathetic it is to the women, which it is not always even when it portrays all the men as poor in character and worse.  Willie (note that is a male name) is actually all by the male artist and painter Bodhi Wind, so it is an asexual affair at the least.


There is definitely a sometimes psychotic shift in personalities between the characters to the point where it reaches an absurd conclusion (without giving anything away), yet it is not intended to be too psychological even by Altman’s own admission and though none of the women drift into these roles, he later explains it is also a tale of “personality theft” except that they are not always realizing this and since it is a dream, throws that on the backburner too.


Country and Western iconography includes a ranch that is as barren as a ghost town, but whose back desert area is a playground for guys to ride dirt bikes and shoot guns.  The use of diegetic music (songs the characters can hear) is as generic as the dialogue between characters (especially from Millie, with her strange connection to a consumerist world that she lives vicariously through) and the California desert they live in and near remind people more than once of Texas, evoking Country Music and Westerns as well.  Are these women a victim in any way of this special brand of male patriarchal power, even in the liberated 1970s?


Altman wants to have it both ways, dream and reality, male and female, art and mental states.  The film is at least thought provoking and an original work, but some have even found it condescending and smug, which as some validity, especially after seeing it for the first time in many years and since Altman is one of the ultimate male auteurs, its mission to be a female film is doomed from the beginning.  It is a sincere attempt to make the film he set out to make, but it is at least a partial failure and I never believed it as real or plausible even before it entered its dream state.  The characters are never totally three-dimensional and the dream-world notwithstanding, this could only represent either dreamed-up people or two-dimensional people in real life who do not represent everyone, no matter what the trio of female characters are supposed to be combined in summary.


With that said, it is one of his better-known films, yet also began a decline that luckily was temporary, but he did not recover for years artistically, following this with the mixed A Wedding, run-on Quintet and failed, very disappointing HEALTH.  If anything, this is the end of Altman’s classical period because this is where he figuratively went to sleep for a while, possibly hibernation.  It is still a must-see film.


Extras include a feature length audio commentary by Altman from the older Criterion DVD release of the film, extensive stills gallery, original theatrical trailers & TV spots and the case contains a paper pullout with technical information on the film and a good essay by critic David Sterritt all worth your time after seeing the film.



The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Women is easily the best here as expected considering it is a Criterion Blu-ray.  It has fine color (it was a DeLuxe Color release) and the naturalistic look typical of all Altman films of the period.  As well, it comes from a 35mm interpositive that is in fine shape for its age and is very consistent throughout, retaining the look and feel you get from an Altman film.  Director of Photography Charles Rosher Jr. (Pretty Maids All In A Row, The Late Show) is among his best work and demonstrates a superior understanding and control of the scope frame, offering many fine compositions here.  The 1080p 2.35 X 1 AVC @ 36 MBPS digital High Definition image on Comancheros is better than its DVD counterpart, but not perfect and could use some work as can the 1080p 1.85 X 1 AVC @ 38 MBPS digital High Definition image on Horse, but they are the best versions of each by default on home video to date.


That leaves the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Buck (softer than usual, in part because of the edited-in clips) and Wicked (obviously shot on HD video) not looking as good, though both might be better on Blu-ray.  Wicked looks too clean to really be taking place in it time period, hampering it further and it has the most motion blur on the list.

Women was apparently recorded in 8-track stereo by Altman, but all that seems to have survived (and it seems to have never played in stereo theatrically, but we had insufficient information on this as we posted this text) the PCM 1.0 Mono comes from what the pullout describes as being from the “original 35mm magnetic track” yet the credits still say 8-track.  Despite this, it sounds fine for its age and the atonal Gerald Busby score adds effectively to the narrative.  The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Comancheros is a little better than the DVD edition’s Dolby 4.0 Mix also included here (so you can compare), but is still pulling towards the front speakers, while the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono on Horse is fuller than expected and is about as good as it is going to get.  That leaves the DVDs with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes that are underwhelming, but Buck has its share of mono audio and location audio limits, while Wicked does not have that excuse.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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