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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Action > Adventure > Large Frame Format > John Wayne – The Fox Westerns (The Big Trail/North To Alaska/The Comancheros/The Undefeated/Fox DVD Set)

John Wayne – The Fox Westerns (The Big Trail/North To Alaska/The Comancheros/The Undefeated/Fox DVD Set)

 

Picture/Sound/Extras/Films:

 

The Big Trail (70mm version/1930) B-/C+/B-/B

The Big Trail (35mm version/1930) C/C+/X/C+

North To Alaska (1960) C+/B-/C/B-

The Comancheros (1961) C+/B-/C/B-

The Undefeated (1969) C+/C+/C/B-

 

 

Though it is hard for some to believe and a controversial idea at that, John Wayne remains one of the biggest movie stars in cinema history.  It is one thing to discuss the history and memorabilia, but to slowly see all of his films is the only way to understand the appeal, success and survival of The Duke.  Among the many DVD sets issued, John Wayne – The Fox Westerns is one of the most interesting a revealing, showing Wayne’s appeal in four widescreen productions that are among his most enduring.

 

The Big Trail is one of only four films William Fox shot in the first of the 70mm formats, Fox Grandeur, before the realities of The Great Depression (and financial failure of his 1930 Science Fiction Musical Just Imagine) caused him to rollback expenditures at Fox Films.  Restored after many decades, the film in its 70mm widescreen version turns out to be one of the great early epics, a successor to what D.W. Griffith did accomplish outside of propaganda and points to the possibility that the 1930s could have been the original widescreen era.  That would have to wait for two decades, but the underrated Raoul Walsh directed and the film seems far ahead of so many films of its time, with an even larger, convincing canvas than Gone With The Wind.  Had this been a huge hit, Wind and many other films may have been very different and the golden year of 1939 something else.  The story of the West being settled has an intelligence and sense of place Wayne would not experience again until he did The Searchers.  From this, you can see why he had star potential, distinguishing himself from a big cast.

 

The 1.33 X 1 35mm version is included on DVD 2, but it is not the equal of the 70mm version, looking like a pan & scan version of the 70mm edition, though some shots are reshoots, while others are the same performance at awkward angles.  The anamorphically enhanced 2.20 X 1 image from the 70mm version may have some print flaws here and there, but it looks remarkably good for its age, Video Black is good here and if you did not know better, you’d think this was from the late 1940s.  This is going to be amazing on Blu-ray and another big plus for the 70mm version is that it is one of the only large frame films ever made in glorious black and white!

 

North To Alaska is director Henry Hathaway’s intentionally comic Western with Wayne, Stewart Granger, Capucine, Ernie Kovacs and Fabian about gold prospecting that is one of the early Hollywood hits immediately associated with a hit record; Johnny Horton’s Top 5 Pop, #1 Country title song.  A curio that delivers more entertainment than expected, the film was shot in CinemaScope and the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image is consistent, though it is also a bit softer than one would like with color that could be a bit better.  The Dolby Digital 4.0 mix is a reproduction of the mag stereo Scope prints that is not bad, but could sound better.

 

The Comancheros was directed by no less than Michael Curtiz in his last directing effort and has Wayne as a Texas Ranger stopping a gang from supplying the Comanche tribe with weapons and booze.  Stuart Whitman rejoins The Duke with Nehemiah Persoff and Lee Marvin co-starring in this pretty good Action Western as Curtiz ends on a high note.  This film was also shot in CinemaScope and the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image is consistent, though it too is also a bit softer than one would like with color that could be a bit better.  The Dolby Digital 4.0 mix is a reproduction of the mag stereo Scope prints that is not bad, but could sound better, though there is no hit song to reveal that as easily as it was last time.

 

The Undefeated is the unintentionally amusing meeting between Wayne and Rock Hudson that has a behind-the-scenes story unfortunately not told anywhere on this disc, but you can see the tensions between the two stars in the final film, directed by Wayne favorite Andrew V. McLagen.  The Civil War is over, but for some in the Confederacy, they want fight on and will do it for the money in this Professional Western that may not hold up against the likes of The Wild Bunch, but with Lee Meriwether, Bruce Cabot and Ben Johnson on board, is still worth seeing.  Yet again, the film was shot in CinemaScope, but in its better Panavision successor and the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image is consistent.  However, it is also a bit softer than one would like with color that could be a bit better.  The case lists the sound as having a Dolby Digital 4.0 mix, but is only Dolby 2.0 Mono and the film was a monophonic release.

 

However, this could sound better, as we have actually reviewed the limited edition CD soundtrack as issued (in only 3,000 copies) by the FSM label of Film Score Monthly Magazine.  Find out more at this link:

 

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/1695/Undefeated/Hombre+(Limited+CD)

 

 

That leaves extras.  All but Trail have their original theatrical trailers, while Alaska and Comancheros add Fox Movietone footage related to the film’s release.  Trail definitely wins in the extras department including the 35mm version of the film on DVD 2, while DVD 1 has another fine audio commentary by Richard Schickel, three stills sections and featurettes including The Creation Of John Wayne, Raoul Walsh: A Man In His Time and The Grandeur Process.

 

That is all enough to make this is as strong as any John Wayne set on the market.  Hope we see more!

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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