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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Revenge > Drama > WWI > Australia > Action > Adventure > The Big Country (1958/MGM Blu-ray)/The Lighthorsemen (1987/Umbrella Region Free Blu-ray + DVD)/Quigley Down Under (1990/MGM Blu-ray)

The Big Country (1958/MGM Blu-ray)/The Lighthorsemen (1987/Umbrella Region Free Blu-ray + DVD)/Quigley Down Under (1990/MGM Blu-ray)


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



PLEASE NOTE: The Horsemen DVD can only be operated on machines capable of playing back DVDs that can handle Region Zero/0/Free PAL format software, while the Blu-ray version is also Region Free and can operate on Blu-ray players worldwide.  Both can be ordered from our friends at Umbrella Entertainment at the website address provided at the end of the review.



And now we continue our look at more Westerns, including the Australian angle I keep bringing up as an ignored discourse in what is likely the oldest film genre of all.



William Wyler’s Big Country (1958) is an epic Western that very much wants to be in the mode and success of George Stevens’ Giant (1956), but as good and as ambitious as it is, I do not think it is always as successful or is able to justify its long 165 minutes running time.  With that said, you have Gregory Peck as the lead, Charlton Heston in a supporting role, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Chuck Connors and Burl Ives in what turned out to be an Academy Award-winning Supporting Actor role.  That’s a serious movie, but the genre was starting to wear thin around now and Peck plays a one-time captain of a ship now looking to settle on land and marry Baker, but finds all kinds of problems along the way.


All in all, this is simply an epic Revenge Western when all is said and done, but a decent one, yet also a bit dated.  Wyler could still direct (his original Desperate Hours (1955, reviewed elsewhere on this site) had only been made a few years before), so it is mature, smart filmmaking.  It just did not always work for me and is only for Western fans or fans of the stars.  There would be less and less Westerns like this until the genre became more realistic in 1965.


Extras include a TV Spot, Trailer and featurette Fun In The Country and yes, the film inspired both the band Big Country and their hit song of the same name. 



Now we switch to two films by Director Simon Wincer.  The first is his underrated tale of how The Lighthorsemen (1987) of Australia helped the Allies win WWI that we do not hear enough about.  An all-Australian production, it was a big hit Down Under but not enough of one in the U.S., sadly and the recent releases of Blu-ray and DVD editions are imports from the Australian video company Umbrella.  Even most of the cast will be unfamiliar to U.S. audiences, yet that makes this somehow more realistic.


The acting, production design and big action sequences make this a very impressive film as well as a pure cinematic experience at times, telling one of too many little-known chapters on WWI we should all hear more about.  For the record, the cast includes Jon Blake, Bill Kerr, Anthony Andrews, Sigrid Thornton, Peter Phelps, Gary Sweet and Gerard Kennedy.  You might even know some of them by seeing them, even if you cannot name them.


At its best, the film is realistic, raw and honest, but Wincer has this odd tendency that holds the film back to suddenly snap into an unnecessary “Hollywood Blockbuster” mode of grandness, usually when it does not fit.  That did not hurt this film as much, but if he had left those moments out of this one, this might have been harder to ignore outside of its native country.  The one extra on both versions is a solid feature length audio commentary track by Director Wincer, while the DVD has a Theatrical Trailer.  If I had to choose, I would still pick the Blu-ray.



A few years later, Wincer made Quigley Down Under (1990) with Tom Selleck as the title sharpshooter arriving Down Under to get rid of some dangerous wild dogs, but he is being tricked into killing people for a rich cattle baron, but when it turns out to be Aborigines, he rebels.  Also set up like a Revenge Western, the film has Quigley hunted, but this never becomes intense or realistic because Wincer insists on adding more of his somewhat pompous idea of a Hollywood production when he should just get to the point, leave it alone and move on to the next scenes.  Selleck is fairly good here, but the performances here are limited by the mixed John Hill screenplay and the film never really works.  Laura San Giacomo and Alan Rickman also star, but they cannot make this more interesting either.  Extras include a TV Spot, Trailer and the ironically entitled featurette The Rebirth Of The Western which simply does not happen here.



All three films are presented in 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers with Country being shot in Technirama, but United Artists never issued any 70mm prints to take advantage of such Large Frame Format shooting.  In addition, this was a dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor but this print does not always show that and the film definitely needs some restoration work.  Whether the Technirama camera negative still exists and what condition it is in is unknown save by owners MGM, but a film this important needs more work despite this being the best version of the film (here in an AVC @ 32 MBPS) to date by default.  Lighthorsemen’s Blu-ray has some slight age issues with the print and the transfer can have some slight softness, but this is a good looking scope film shot for the big screen and was lensed by no less than Dean Semler (Dances With Wolves) delivering some shots and scenes that will impress and hold up very well.  The anamorphically enhanced DVD version is softer, but does not look bad for the format, but the Blu-ray is the best-looking disc on this list.  Quigley is here in an AVC @ 33 MBPS and though it should look better than the rest, it is off of an older HD master, holding back the sometimes fine work Director of Photography David Eggby, A.C.S., delivers.


All three Blu-rays offer DTS-HD MA 2.0 lossless mixes and Country was a theatrical monophonic release despite its big budget.  It is monophonic here despite the popularity of Jerome Morose’s music score that might exist in stereo in the vaults somewhere.  Needless to say the sound needs upgraded in a future edition.  The DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Pro Logic surrounds on Lighthorsemen and Quigley both show their age and Lighthorsemen was an analog Dolby A-type release.  The encoding is decent.  The DVD has lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with good surrounds, but it is narrowly edged out by the DTS on the Blu-ray.  Quigley decodes better and has the best sound of all the releases here down to Basil Poledouris’ score.  Part of the advantage is that the film was originally issued in theaters with Dolby’s more advanced analog Spectral Recording (SR) encoding, so that is why it has a sonic edge beyond being the newest film on the list.



As noted above, you can order the Region Free Blu-ray and Region Free PAL DVD import versions of Lighthorsemen exclusively from Umbrella at:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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