John Wayne – An
American Icon (Universal)
Sound: C+ Extras: C- Films: B-
A slew of John Wayne sets are being issued at the same
time on DVD and Universal has dug into their archive and come up with five
films featuring Wayne’s affiliations with three studios. John Wayne – An American Icon
collects the films on two DVDs and they are:
Seven Sinners (1940) is an earlier teaming of
Wayne and Marlene Dietrich as a Naval officer falls for a singer with a dark
past, offers more action than melodrama and holds up well for its time.
Shepherd Of The Hills (1941) is the third film
version of the Ozark Mountain people tale involving a curse and the traditions
of the region. Done as a book come to
life in its opening credits, it becomes a film unto itself and has an
interesting use of color.
Pittsburgh (1942) re-teams Wayne and
Marlene Dietrich as Wayne and Randolph Scott find themselves in a triangle as
riches await in the coal industry, though Pittsburgh was always the Steel
City. Muddy and confining, it makes for
an interesting Hollywoodized version of an American industry now long gone.
The Conqueror (1950) is Wayne’s amusingly
catastrophic turn as Genghis Khan, but also happens to be a big sprawling
production that is still interesting, even when it is unintentionally amusing
and outright bad.
Jet Pilot (1957) has Wayne in Howard
Hughes’ attempt to do a second variation on his early megahit Hell’s Angels,
but the film is not that good, though Janet Leigh makes for an interesting
These are some odd films from Wayne’s career, with the
first three from his big, early studio peak, while the latter two show Wayne
coping with the loss of Republic, than RKO as he held on to his independence as
Hollywood went through changes in its decline.
Wayne’s star power helped him survive that. All five projects were ambitious and risk-taking enough to keep
his career interesting and star shining.
That is why this set is worth a look.
The image is about the same throughout the despite the various
ages and aspect ratios of the films. Sinners,
Hills and Pittsburgh are 1.33 X 1, all black and white except Hills
in three-strip dye-transfer Technicolor from Universal’s old Paramount Pictures
holdings. It looks good, if not
great. The anamorphically enhanced
remaining films are also in color, both RKO Pictures that Universal distributed
before the studio folded. The
Conqueror was shot in CinemaScope at 2.35 x 1, while Jet Pilot began
shooting in 1950 and was flat widescreen by the time it was issued. Both were also processed in processed in
three-strip dye-transfer Technicolor, but they both lack full color fidelity,
consistency and do not have the detail they should either. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on all five
titles is about the same, though Sinners is more average and shows its
age the most. A few trailers for the
films are the only extras.
- Nicholas Sheffo