The 'John Wayne Westerns Film Collection' is comprised of previously released Blu-rays ('Fort Apache' from 2012 / 'The Searchers' from 2006 / 'Rio Bravo' from 2007) and two new to the format ('The Train Robbers' / 'Cahill: U.S. Marshal'). The Searchers and Rio Bravo were reviewed for HDD by Peter Bracke.
Fort Apache: 4/5
The Searchers: 3.5/5
Rio Bravo: 3.5/5
The Train Robbers: 3.5/5
Cahill U.S. Marshal: 4/5
John Wayne was one of the most successful actors to emerge from Hollywood. Not only was he a consistent top-ten box office draw from 1949-1970, only missing out in 1958, but through his work, he became a symbol of the United States. In Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne, biographer Ronald Davis wrote: "John Wayne personified for millions the nation's frontier heritage. Eighty-three of his movies were Westerns, and in them he played cowboys, cavalrymen, and unconquerable loners extracted from the Republic's central creation myth." Warner Brothers presents five of those films in its 'John Wayne Westerns Collection'.
In chronological order, the oldest film is 'Fort Apache' (1948), the first of two collaborations with John Ford in this set and the first of Ford and Wayne's "cavalry trilogy," which also includes 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon' and 'Rio Grande'. Henry Fonda plays Lt. Colonel Thursday, newly assigned commander to the remote Fort Apache. He was formerly a general during the Civil War and sees both the assignment and demotion in rank as a slight. His resentment fuels his arrogance, causing him to frequently ignore the sound advice of Captain Kirby York (John Wayne) in dealing with both the soldiers and the Apaches.
Based on a short story by James Warner Bellah, the title of which is a spoiler, 'Fort Apache' is a good film, albeit with an all-too-familiar story. The script offers little for Fonda to work with as the stereotypical know-it-all yet no-nothing commander who is so desperate to do things his way he cares no mind if it's the right way. Complicating matters, Thursday is widowed and there's a romantic subplot between his daughter Philadelphia (Shirley Temple) and Lieutenant Michael O'Rourke (John Agar), who is not from a family of the same social status. Unfortunately, it's not enough to make Thursday a memorable character. There's not much memorable about York either but Wayne's charisma is enough to keep the viewer engaged.
Peter reviewed the two films in the set from the '50s, and gave them much lower scores than I would have. The last two films in the set were both released in 1973. By then, everything had changed: the Western genre, the movie industry, even the country. The old West was no longer the intriguing locale it once had been, and the antiheroes had taken over the silver screen. Plus, after the turmoil of the '60s and early '70s, many of America's youth no longer held the country in such high esteem, and thereby its representative. While he may not have been able to achieve the same success at the box office, Wayne continued doing what he did best.
In the 'Train Robbers', Lane brings Mrs. Lowe (Ann-Margaret) to Liberty, Texas to search for half a million in gold stolen by her husband and others in a train robbery five years ago. She wants to clear the family name so her son won't be burdened by it. Lane has assembled a small group, so they can help her earn the reward money, but they aren't alone as others involved in the robbery pursue them. Ricardo Montalban is one of the men in pursuit. Even though this was only 92 minutes, it felt like it ran long because there were too many scenes of characters riding on horseback that didn't advance the plot. It could have been cut down to an hour-long TV episode. There is a great plot twist in the final act that elevates the piece.
Wayne plays 'Cahill: US Marshall' and stretches as an actor playing a widower of two young boys. The job has kept him away, often for long stretches, leading the boys to get involved with a bank robbery just out of spite. But they bite off more than they can chew when things don't go as planned. When four men innocent of the crime are tried and set to be hung, they want to turn the money in and confess, but their outlaw partners have other ideas. Wayne shows a tender side of his character when he realizes how he's failed the boys as a father.
Although some of the Duke's Warner Brothers westerns aren't included, the 'John Wayne Westerns Collection' offers a very good mix of films.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Brothers presents the five-disc set in a hardcover booklet housed within a slipcase. Each disc sits within cardboard pages and need to be slid out the side, which may be easier said than done. All the movies go straight to the menu.
Fort Apache: 3.5/5
The Searchers: 4.5/5
Rio Bravo: 4/5
The Train Robbers: 4/5
Cahill U.S. Marshal: 3.5/5
Warner Brothers presents 'Fort Apache', 'The Train Robbers', and 'Cahill' with 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfers on 25GB discs. 'Fort Apache' is Region Free and displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The latter two are Region A and have an aspect ratio of 2.39:1
The cinematography in 'Fort Apache' delivers great contrast with rich blacks and bright whites. There's noticeable depth and detail on display and the image looks free of dirt and wear. There are a few scenes where there are soft focus issues, but the image has very good clarity for the most part. A natural amount of film grain appears, which increases during exterior shots that capture a lot of sky or a scene where the horses are kicking up a lot of dirt. An example can be seen when the soldiers go after Cochise at dawn. A brief flicker appears during this time and also later when the sun is being reflected from a distance at York. At chapter 16, about 63 minutes in, a faint pattern of lines crisscrossing can be seen in the sky when they go to Meacham's.
'The Train Robbers' presents a picture free of dirt and damage. The film grain is never distracting. The color palette uses warm earth tones and the fleshtones are consistent. Blacks are strong and contribute to good shadow delineation. Objects are sharply defined and offer up small details, as seen in the engine car of the crashed train. The image has very good depth. It is best on display during the long shots that reveal the men after Lane's party.
During the opening sequences in 'Cahill', the focus is soft, in part due to the limited depth of field. As Cahill brings his prisoners in, the colors are muddled and clarity is poor, but the picture thankfully improves from there. The color palette is mainly comprised of dull hues. Faces skew a bit red at times. Blacks are rich but tend to crush during nighttime scenes, leading to poor shadow delineation like in the sheriff's office during the robbery. The print looks clean.
Fort Apache: 2.5/5
The Searchers: 3/5
Rio Bravo: 2.5/5
The Train Robbers: 3/5
Cahill U.S. Marshal: 3.5/5
'Fort Apache', 'The Train Robbers', and 'Cahill' all have DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. They are free of hiss and signs of wear and damage. They also all do well is delivering clear, understandable dialogue throughout.
The 'Fort Apache' score sounds compressed and close to distortion. The battle scene does as well, seeming more like noise than distinct sounds. The track has a decent dynamic range with the Apaches' screams at the high end.
'The Train Robbers' score suffers in the same way with the music slightly muffled. Dialogue is always understandable. The dynamic range is very good, delivering a solid oomph for the explosions and gunfire while also allowing for the soft patter of rain.
The 'Cahill' score sounds fuller. The instruments come through with better fidelity, as heard in the warmer, brass tones. The thunder rumbles with force.
Fort Apache: 1.5/5
The Searchers: 4/5
Rio Bravo: 3.5/5
The Train Robbers: 1/5
Cahill U.S. Marshal: 1.5/5
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
The Train Robbers from the 2005 DVD
'Cahill: United States Marshall' from the 2003 DVD
Although it's hard to imagine just stopping at five films, 'John Wayne Westerns Film Collection' offers a good mix of classic films and enjoyable lesser-knowns. Without major restorations or newly created soundtracks, this high-def presentation is as good as can be expected. For those who own the previously released Blu-rays, 'The Train Robbers' and 'Cahill: US Marshall' are also available separately.