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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Drama > Comedy > Shorts > Silent > Rio Bravo 4K (1959/Warner 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray)/Tom Mix: Sky High (1922) + Big Diamond Robbery (1929/Undercrank Productions Blu-ray)

Rio Bravo 4K (1959/Warner 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray)/Tom Mix: Sky High (1922) + Big Diamond Robbery (1929/Undercrank Productions Blu-ray)

4K Ultra HD Picture: B+ Picture: X/B Sound: B-/C+ Extras: C+/D Films: B/C+

Westerns, it is a dead genre, yet you still see them get made and though most are really bad and beyond formulaic, such stories did not arrive as a genre instantly. Before John Ford's Stagecoach (1939) firmly established them cinematically, such tales were either serial chapter plays or B-movies, going way back to the beginning of the silent era. The Great Train Robbery (1905) is often sited as one of the first and the first-ever narrative film. What you should know is The genre peaked in the 1950s and ended in all kinds of ways with Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate (1980) with any Western directed by John Ford or Howard Hawks is an important one.

We look at restored versions of a few key films in the genre, starting with Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo 4K (1959) now upgraded and restored for the 100th Anniversary of Warner Bros. and here in the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray format. Many years ago, I gave a full review of the film when it was issued in the long-defunct HD-DVD format at this link:


That was not a bad release for its time and was also issued on regular Blu-ray with the same extras. The film holds up enough and has aged about as expected, with Angie Dickinson the only major surviving member of the cast. Wayne, controversial as ever, remains very popular and the market is still huge for new product like this 4K disc and memorabilia that keeps climbing in value.

More on the technical upgrades below, but because Warner had not included a regular Blu-ray copy in this case, the Richard Schickel/John Carpenter audio commentary is the only extra here.

Before 1939, most of those B-movie Westerns were usually built around hero figures, the stars who played them and/or a certain character they might play. One such actor was Tom Mix, very popular even among Western fans today. Thanks to lack of preservation, most of his silent films from 1918 to 1928 are gone forever, barring a few miraculous discoveries at some point. Two that have survived are here in solid 2K restorations and worth catching.

Sky High (1922, 50 minutes) was key enough to be put into the U.S. National Film Registry and has Mix's hero battling jewelry smugglers, whose greed and thieving ways drive them to kidnap the daughter of the man secretly funding their operations. Having gone too far, a reckoning is soon due. Great Grand Canyon location shooting and some good fights, with solid stuntwork for the time make this one worth seeing.

The Big Diamond Robbery (1929, 67 minutes) has the daughter of another rich man living it up on the family money, but when an expensive necklace is stolen, a skilled recovery guy (Mix) is called in to get the wealth back and stop the bad guys. This was his last silent film, luckily survived, has not been seen for decades and is not bad at all.

Of course, both have dated 'Hollywood Indians' here and there, but when they don't show up, both films are a real pleasure to watch.

There are sadly no extras, but you can read about Mix's later hit sound movie serial The Miracle Rider (1935) at this link and hopefully, it will get the same restoration treatment these shorts got:


Now for playback performance. The 2160p HEVC/H.265, 1.85 X 1, HDR (10; Ultra HD Premium)-enhanced Ultra High Definition image on Rio Bravo 4K looks really good and though the older Blu-ray/HD-DVD master was not bad in capturing the dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor versions of the film as you would see them in a great 35mm (or even 16mm) print, the advances in technology bring the film more to life. Yes, I wish this were in Dolby Vision as there is color and definition still in the original, surviving camera materials, but this is the best I have ever seen the film. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless mix surprised me by offering some more warmth, a little more detail and more naturalism than the lossy track on the old HD-DVD. Sadly not a stereo film in its time, this is as good as this film will ever sound.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white with tinting, digital High Definition image transfers on both Tom Mix films can show the age of the materials used, but the 2K scans are impressive and the materials are fortunately in better shape than even I expected. In some shots, these look great! We also get two new music scores by Ben Model in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and the music is solid, as usual for his heartfelt work, but I just wish the sound was lossless. Otherwise, a fine double feature worth a look.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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