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Blu-Ray : Highly Recommended
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Release Date: June 27th, 2023 Movie Release Year: 1968

Will Penny

Overview -

No stranger to action films and westerns, Charlton Heston stars in Tom Gries’ first feature effor Will Penny. As an aging cowpuncher, Heston delivers one of his most emotionally exposed performances as a simple man given the chance for a better life with Joan Hackett while being hunted by a gleefully maniacal Donald Pleasence. On Blu-ray from KLSC, the disc looks and sounds amazing with a nice range of new and archival bonus features. A terrific film front to back - Highly Recommended

Hollywood legend Charlton Heston (Secret of the Incas, The Big Country, Ben-Hur) stars as Will Penny, an aging cowboy on a hard-luck streak. He’s out of work, out of money, and staked out to die in the desert by a gang of ruthless outlaws. Moments before death, Will is taken in by the beautiful Catherine (Joan Hackett, Support Your Local Sheriff), who is heading west with her young son to join her husband. As Catherine nurses Will back to health, he catches a glimpse of a lifestyle he’s never known. Suddenly, Will has two more problems to deal with: he’s in love with another man’s wife, and the outlaw gang is on its way back to finish him off. Heston’s favorite film in which he appeared, the elegiac Will Penny was written and directed by Tom Gries (100 Rifles, Breakout, Breakheart Pass), shot by Lucien Ballard (The Wild Bunch), and finely cast with Donald Pleasence, Bruce Dern, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens, Clifton James, Anthony Zerbe, Jon Gries and Lee Majors.

Product Extras :

Brand New HD Master - From a 4K Scan of the 35mm Original Camera Negative

NEW Audio Commentary by Author/Screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner, Film Historian Henry Parke and WILL PENNY Script Supervisor Michael Preece

Remembering WILL PENNY: Featurette with Charlton Heston and Jon Gries (13:20)

The Cowboys of WILL PENNY: Featurette with Charlton Heston and Jon Gries (3:26)

Theatrical Trailer

Optional English Subtitles

Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Blu-ray Disc
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p AVC/MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio(s):
Audio Formats:
English: DTS-HD MA 2.0
English SDH
Release Date:
June 27th, 2023

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


It’s never a good thing to pigeonhole any given actor. Just because someone starred in a few grand biblical epics, fought mutant zombie vampires, or famously exposed the source of humanity’s food supply doesn’t mean they don’t have range. While his personal politics may have been dodgy to some, Charlton Heston wasn’t for lack of talent in front of the camera. A commanding leading man he’d often rival John Wayne for the role of the quintessential tough guy but he had a softer side that was rarely fully explored. Heston may have earned his Oscar for 1960’s Ben Hur but he’d turn in arguably the best performance of his career in 1967 with Tom Gries' feature directorial debut Will Penny.

In this somber Western, Heston digs deep as the titular cowhand who’s known only one way of living - do right by the boss and the man beside you and you’ll get paid and always have a job. Taking a job as a line rider in a remote mountain spread, he comes upon Catherine Allen (Joan Hackett) and her son Horace (Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Gries) living in his cabin. Giving them time to head out before winter sets in, Will goes to check the herd. When he’s set upon and left for dead by the deranged Preacher Quint (Donald Pleasance) and his sons Rufus (Gene Rutherford) and Rafe (Bruce Dern), Will must turn to Catherine for aid. With winter upon them, they become unlikely bunkmates but soon their friendship becomes something more than Will has ever known. But Quint and his sons lurk in the wilderness and Will Penny’s peaceful life may be shortlived. 

As a huge Western fan, Will Penny has a special place in my heart. As much as I love gun duels and big action sequences, I always appreciate it when a Western knows how to be calm. For as much action within the film, there’s a terrific balance of romance and character drama. But it doesn’t overplay the saccharine hand either. As we watch Heston’s Will relax into this role of surrogate husband and father, we watch him become a new man faced with reconciling the lonely life he's lived fo so long. Heston sells this change beautifully and effortlessly - a scene where he can't sing Christmas carols because he never learned them as a boy is particularly devistating. Shortly after that moment, a scene of Heston and Hackett churning butter for Christmas may be euphemistically interesting, but it’s also a wonderfully tender moment between the two great actors. Gires had a deft touch with managing the tender-hearted moments equally against the suspense and dynamic action sequences.

But an easy-going man of few words hero is only as good as his gregarious villain and Donald Pleasence turns in a menacingly excellent bad guy. His wild eyes, odd folksy accent, and perverse use of scriptures to defend his actions are genuinely unsettling. Matching the effort is another early appearance from Bruce Dern as the crazed son Rafe. Bruce Dern’s early Western villains are practically a sub-genre of their own as Pleasance may get the most attention but Dern finds his own ways to shine. Joan Hackett is also a welcome addition to the cast as the motherly and guarded Catherine. While cast as the possible love interest, she’s far from a damsel in distress or the brand of useless window dressing this kind of role so often sticks in. On many similar notes she’s an equal to Geraldine Page in 1953’s Hondo. She wants the real love of a man but doesn’t need it to survive. While our main leads get the most attention, Gries populates the film with a terrific cast of film and television actors including Anthony Zerbe, Lee Majors, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens, and Clifton James.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
As part of their deal with Paramount, Kino Lorber Studio Classics delivers this classy Western to Blu-ray. A single-disc release, the film is pressed on a Region A BD-50 Disc. Housed in a standard case with an identical slipcover, the disc loads to a static image main menu with standard navigation options.

Video Review


It's almost a shame this release didn’t include the rights for a 4K UDH  release. Reportedly sourced from a brand new master sourced from a 4K scan of the 35mm original negative, Will Penny makes for an often striking Blu-ray debut. From the first frames, the image displaces an impressive amount of detail with a healthy cinematic grain structure. Fine facial features, clothing textures, production design, and the many scenic locations all look terrific. The film takes place in the winter so there are a lot of cool-skewing colors but primaries look great with healthy skin tones to match With all of the snow, whites are brilliantly crisp without problematic blooming. Black levels and shadows are on point without issue. Free of any DNR smoothing or troublesome edge enhancement, the transfer is remarkably clean without any notable damage or speckling to speak of. Front to back an excellent transfer that could only look better on UHD with HDR.

Audio Review


This release of Will Penny rides off with a rather splendid DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix. Action sequences get plenty of attention but the quiet conversation moments are well cared for. Scenes on the open prairie or in the mountains have an appreciable sense of imaging and dimension. Sound effects are lively without becoming overbearing. Dialog is clean and clear without any serious issues, but you can tell when a line was overdubbed later. David Raksin’s score is a lovely complement to the action and drama sequences. Free of hiss or age-related issues, this is an excellent mix.

Special Features


Bonus features may not be the biggest or most robust package of all time, but what we’re getting here is a quality stash. In addition to a couple of archival pieces we score a brand new audio commentary with C. Courtney Joyner, Henry Parke, and Script Supervisor Michael Preece - which is a fantastic listen. Parke and Joyner sound like big fans of the film and they regularly mine Preece for on-set details which he offers with a lot of nostalgic enthusiasm. After that, we get the older Charlton Heston interview pieces with Jon Gries among others that are well worth watching through. 

  • Audio Commentary featuring author/screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner, historian Henry Parks, and Will Penny Script Supervisor Michael Preece.
  • Remembering Will Penny (SD 13:21)
  • The Cowboys of Will Penny (SD 3:27)
  • Trailer
  • KLSC Trailer Gallery:

When you look at a golden-era actor’s career, It’s often difficult to pick the best performance. In the case of Will Penny, Charlton Heston made it damned easy by delivering one of his most vulnerable and personable performances. It’s a terrific turn from Heston but the entire cast is giving it everything they got including Donald Pleasance as the maniacal villain. Some story elements may echo George Steven's Shane, but Directed by Tom Gries, this film offers up its own unique flavor and proves to be one of the finest entries in the genre. Now on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Will Penny rides off with a great A/V presentation and some worthwhile bonus features. Every Western fan needs this in the collection, but fans of great films will want to check this out too - Highly Recommended