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Category:    Home > Reviews > Westerns > Drama > Comedy > Revenge > James Stewart – The Western Collection (Destry Rides Again/Winchester ‘73/Bend Of The River/The Far Country/Night Passage/The Rare Breed/Universal DVD)

James Stewart – The Western Collection (Destry Rides Again/Winchester ‘73/Bend Of The River/The Far Country/Night Passage/The Rare Breed/Universal DVD)


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



Jimmy Stewart’s great career is obvious, but his Westerns are always considered a low point and I always found that odd, revisionist thinking, maybe from the Politically Correct crowd and/or from film snobs who are not as clever as they think they are.  In real life, like so many other things he did, Stewart was perfect for the genre, playing the quintessentially American in yet another variation, yet not in a throwaway sense.  Universal’s new DVD set James Stewart – The Western Collection shows just that with the following six films:



Destry Rides Again (1939) is sometimes mistaken for a Paramount film Universal now owns, but it really is a Universal original and offers a classic pairing of Stewart and Marlene Dietrich as Stewart is the tile character, a gun-less Sheriff called in to clean up a rotten town.  The teaming has classic chemistry and this is a comedy.


Winchester ‘73 (1950) on the other hand is one of the all-time classic Revenge Westerns and not always politically correct at that, but is way ahead of its time in its view on guns and pulls no punches in a talk of a son (Stewart) avenging his father.  The strong cast includes John McIntire, Rock Hudson, Stephen McNally, Tony Curtis, Shelley winters, Dan Duryea, Will Geer and Jay C. Flippen.  Director Anthony Mann handily juggled this into one of Stewart’s best films and this is the cycle that falls between the Classic and Professional Westerns.  A trailer and Stewart interview are the extras.  A must-see film!



These are both 1.33 X 1 black and white films that are in good shape here and have been cleaned up nicely, though Blu-ray will be the ultimate test.



Bend Of The River (1952) has Stewart and Hudson together again in another solid Mann work about pioneers on the Oregon Trail.  Though not as good as the previous film, it is still very watchable, with a cast that includes Julia Adams (Creature From The Black Lagoon), Arthur Kennedy, Henry Morgan and another infamous appearance by Stepin’ Fetchit.  A trailer is included and despite the disclaimer at the beginning that the image might be chapped up somehow, this was originally a 1.33 X 1 three-strip, dye-transfer Technicolor film and that is how it is presented here.  Detail and color are pretty good for a film of its age.  The original trailer is included.



The Far Country (1954) is yet another Mann Western, this time in 1.85 X 1 widescreen (anamorphically presented here) as Stewart joins Walter Brennan in a get rich quick scheme involving cattle and conning.  But The Gold Rush is on too and they may find something else “constructive” to come up with.  Ruth Roman, John McIntire, Henry Morgan, Kathleen Freeman, Royal Dano and Jack Elam also star.  Another three-strip, dye-transfer Technicolor film, the color is good and more like such a print.  The original trailer is included.



Night Passage (1957) paired Stewart with Audrey Murphy opposing each other in this train robbery Western, produced in pricey Technirama shoot (here in anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 three-strip, dye-transfer Technicolor, though the color is weak, as is the depth and definition, so this is secondary material) though this was never issued in a 70mm print.  Dan Duryea, Dianne Foster, Elaine Stewart, Tommy Cook and Brandon de Wilde co-star in this ambitious production.  The original trailer is included, but the film needs serious work before a Blu-ray can be considered.



The Rare Breed (1966) pairs Stewart with Andrew V. McLagen, who often directed Westerns helming this tale of in the 1880s when a new kind of cattle succeeded Texas Longhorns (English Hereford) as the cattle of sales choice and consumption.  It is an interesting story, told well and backed by a cast that includes Maureen O’Hara, Brian Keith, Juliet Mills, Gregg Palmer and Don Galloway.  This film was shot in real anamorphic Panavision and three-strip, dye-transfer Technicolor, offered on this DVD in anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1.  The original trailer is included.



The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on all six films are fine for their age, though you would think some o0f the later films might have been in stereo, but they were not.


So needless to say, Stewart’s Westerns were not just fill-in product, but serious, top rate productions that Universal wisely made and backed to the full.  They were not B-movies or formula product and this set once and for all will put that myth to rest.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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