Joel McCrea is a fugitive Confederate soldier looking to buy weapons with stolen Union Gold in the thrilling Western adventure Border River. The slick story, great cast, and lovely scenic locations elevate this from being just another churn-and-burn genre entry. KLSC delivers an all-around excellent Blu-ray with a lovely transfer, solid audio, with an informative audio commentary to punch up bonus features. Recommended
Just over the Rio Grande is the thriving outlaw territory of Zona Libre run by the conniving despot General Calla (Pedro Armendáriz). Confederate soldier Clete Mattson (Joel McCrea) has $2 million in stolen Union gold stashed away to buy weapons and ammunition in a desperate attempt to turn the tide of the war. Only with that much gold around, any number of outlaws, banditos, rustlers, and thieves will want a crack at the loot before Clete can get his supplies.
Another day another classic Western mosies its way onto the dusty Blu-ray trail. This time I get to check out another solid Joel McCrea entry with Border River. McCrea once again proves the deft and amiable leading man for this slick Western thriller. As the outlaw soldier on a mission, he stands tall delivering his trademark likability to make him a sympathetic character. The plot has some stakes to it lending urgency to the swift-moving 80-minute runtime. It gets in, sets up the characters, and gets out of the way. As fast as it moves, it thankfully doesn’t shortchange any of the characters or plot beats.
With the money hidden away, McCrea’s Clete has to work fast to get his supplies while fending off the devious General Calla played by the delightfully entertaining Pedro Armendáriz. Armendáriz gives the role the right amount of menace and comedy without overplaying it into buffoonery. A little less consequential to the plot but a welcome addition nonetheless is Yvonne De Carlo as the seductive saloon owner Carmelita. She’s sort of a love triangle character between McCrea and Armendáriz, but wisely the film doesn’t dwell on that aspect long. No time for love, it’s too busy setting up some solid action and suspense pieces for a rousing climactic third act.
Directed by George Sherman from a screenplay by William Sckhem and Louis Stevens, Border River is a clever, well-above-average Western adventure. The characters are cleanly and simply drawn with a to-the-point plot that doesn’t over-complicate the story without short-changing anything either. Shot on location in Moab, there’s beautiful scenery brought to colorful life with lovely Technicolor shades to lend some measure of authenticity to the film so it’s not all recycled Hollywood backlot stages and facades. Far from being the greatest Western ever made, Border River has just enough going for it to be damned entertaining - and it’s short enough that you could slot in a double feature for your evening’s entertainment.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Border River crosses into the free lands of Blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Pressed on a Region A BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard case. The disc loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
Preserving the original theatrical aspect ratio, Border River rides in with a pleasing 1080p 1.37:1 transfer. Like many of KLSC’s Universal releases, this film doesn’t look like it’s been given a new scan but it’s still a very good looking transfer all the same. The most striking aspect is the beautifully scenic Moab locations captured in vivid Technicolor glory. Colors are bright, bold, and damned beautiful. Details are strong throughout with an overall healthy grain structure. Black levels are pretty good, but some day-for-night photography is a little dodgy leading to some pretty thick, almost crushed blacks. Scenes captured in the studio sets look pretty fantastic on their own, but it’s obvious when and where the Moab locations come and go. The source elements are in good shape with only slight speckling here and there.
This release also enjoys a nice DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track. Outdoor location scenes get the most excitement and attention with exchanges of gunfire or horses galloping through the river. Dialog scenes are strong and clear. In a couple of places I felt like there were some slight sibilance issues with hard “S” words or plurals, but those are pretty brief issues and not distracting. Scoring by Henri Mancini - among other uncredited composers - lends some nice genre music cues to the film. Free of snaps, crackles, or pops, it’s a clean track.
Bonus features for this round of Border River are a little slim, but KLSC was nice enough to deliver an engaging commentary by film historian Toby Roan. He’s flying solo but manages to fill the time with plenty of detail and trivia about the film for a worthwhile listen. After that, KLSC delivers their usual collection of related theatrical trailers.
Made in the time when Westerns were the go-to genre for film and television, a glut of big-budget, middle-budget, and B-movie pictures flooded screens. Border River was a modestly budgeted film for Universal International with a great cast and shot on location in Utah for added authenticity setting it above a lot of the drek that came out in the 1950s. The plot may be simple and the film moves fast, but it’s a good time. KLSC delivers a nice Blu-ray release for this Technicolor classic with a strong video transfer, clean audio, and a worthwhile audio commentary to bolster the bonus features package. Recommended