Having fled to Mexico many years before for killing his father's murderer, Martin Brady (Robert Mitchum, Man with the Gun) travels to Texas to broker an arms deal for his Mexican boss and Governor Castro (Pedro Armendariz, 3 Godfathers). Brady has an accident and the gun shipment he was returning to Mexico is stolen, complicating matters further is the wife (Julie London, Man of the West) of local army major Colton (Gary Merrill, All About Eve) who has designs on Brady and a local Texas Ranger captain (Albert Dekker, The Wild Bunch) who offers Brady a chance to join his outfit. But after killing a man in self-defense, Brady slips back over the border and is confronted by Castro who s unhappy that Brady has lost his guns, but may also join forces with Colton to battle the Apache Indians. Robert Parrish (A Town Called Hell) directed this action-packed western featuring a supporting cast that includes Jack Oakie, Charles McGraw, Anthony Caruso, John Banner, Mike Kellin and Baseball Legend Leroy Satchel Paige.
Special Features: Trailers for 'Foreign Intrigue', 'Man with the Gun', 'Wonderful Country', 'Billy Two Hats'
Populating a movie with conflicted characters is a great way to help the story resonate with an audience. Watching someone struggle with familiar issues of right and wrong, morality, and honor help make the protagonist relatable and therefore, more enjoyable to watch. You don't want to see someone on a life journey go through so much and not change, nor do you want them to become a worse version of themselves - even though that does have a tendency to happen. 1959's 'The Wonderful Country' is an endearing epic-scale Western directed by Robert Parrish and starring the great Robert Mitchum as a man trying to figure out his place in the world and resolving the conflict his journey brings with him.
For Martin Brady (Robert Mitchum), his life didn't start peacefully, one could even argue that he was baptized by gunfire. When he was just a teenager Martin avenged the murder of his father by gunning down the man responsible. Fearing this particular brand of civic and social justice would earn him a rope around his neck, Martin fled south into Mexico where he would be free from the law, and where he could find work as someone who knows his way around the working end of a gun. For the last fourteen years Martin has been the right-hand pistolero for the Castro family - particularly Cipriano Castro (Pedro Armendariz) who has eyes for grander fortunes. In order to secure his family's legacy, Castro needs a shipment of guns and Martin is the man to ensure this bounty makes it across the border and into Mexico.
While Martin is on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, a need to see where he came from rises from deep within. Riding a beautiful black stallion, Martin makes his way to the small Texas border town where his father died. When a tumbleweed makes Martin's horse buck him off, Martin is left with a broken leg in a town full of curious people interested in the white man who dresses like a Mexican bandit. With his leg keeping him from his duty, Martin isn't able to ensure the safe delivery of Castro's weapons, and sure enough, they go missing putting Martin in a difficult position. While people are ready and willing to welcome Martin back into their society, in particular, Helen Colton (Julie London) the beautiful wife of the local army major, Martin never quite feels at home. When Martin is forced to kill a man in self-defense, his situation becomes even more precarious.
With no other choice but to head back to Mexico, Martin will have to face Castro for losing the guns. With bad history ready to greet him on either side of the border, Martin is faced with a number of choices and none of them are very good. As one situation resolves itself another problem arises. A fight within the Castro family for the Governorship as well as a band of Apache and the United States army are but of a few of the problems Martin must help sort out if he's ever to find a proper place in the world.
'The Wonderful Country' tries to pack in a lot of story in not a lot of time. The film's brisk pace works for the most part and as we follow Martin as he must face the consequences of his choices and past deeds, the film also takes some time to enjoy the sweetness of his journey. As a man who believed he didn't have any other future beyond holding a gun in his hand, watching his unease and discomfort as he is welcomed back into society is actually a pleasant experience. We get to enjoy a nice montage of him being cleaned up, taken to a barber and wearing fresh clean clothes. All of a sudden Martin is no longer a dirty-looking gunman but is in fact, a decent and respectable human being. This makes the moment where he has to kill or be killed while coming to the aid of a friend all the more heart wrenching. As a man with a sordid history, Martin doesn't believe he belongs in polite society and Robert Mitchum wears the anguish on his face in every scene.
If there is to be any negative criticism levied against 'The Wonderful Country' it is found strictly in the balance of the film. We spend so much time with Martin and his journey reentering society that by the time the film's true second act officially starts, we're most of an hour into the film leaving very little time to bring the story to a truly fulfilling conclusion. That isn't to say the film ends badly or that the story doesn't resolve itself well, it's just that had the film been maybe twenty minutes longer or perhaps had spent less time at the front end dealing with Martin's history and his new relationship with American life, the film could have felt a better sense of balance.
Based on the novel by Tom Lea and written by Robert Ardrey, 'The Wonderful Country' is a fine piece of Western genre filmmaking and storytelling. Too often I feel like Westerns get a bad rap for being all about quick-draw cowboys and renegade Indians on the warpath. While it is true there are those films that revel in those genre cliche, 'The Wonderful Country' on the other hand is a nice and dramatically rich western. There are far more quiet conversational moments than there are gunfights and the results is a fantastic character piece. As Martin tries to run away from his past he's also trying to avoid a future, but that is something nobody can do. All Martin, or any of us for that matter, can do is to live life as it comes. We can't predict an outcome any better than we can change what has already happened. I loved watching Martin chose his life's path and then face the consequences. And true to any good Western, the ambiguous ending leaves you wondering what will become of Martin, but at the same time we're confident that he has made a sound decision for himself.
'The Wonderful Country' is a true Classic-style Western. Martin may be a man who has done bad things, but that doesn't mean he's beyond finding a sense of personal redemption. As a fan of the genre, I'm always game for watching a Western even though there are numerous bad entries in the genre out there that should be avoided. Finding a bad Western can be a gigantic letdown, particularly because they don't make many new ones anymore, but thankfully 'The Wonderful Country' is a great little gem of a movie. It's far from perfect, but I appreciate that it tries to be something earnest and great and it is also the source of a fine performance from Robert Mitchum with a beautiful and rousing score from composer Alex North. It's also quite a bit of fun to see Major League Baseball legend Satchel Page as a cavalry lieutenant! If you've yet to view this one, give it a try sometime, you might discover you're a fan.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Wonderful Country' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics line. Pressed on a Region A locked BD25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard case and loads directly to the main menu.
56 years has left 'The Wonderful Country' in a state of flux with the quality of its 1080p 1.66:1 image. The good news is that the print this transfer was sourced from is in fairly good shape, with minimal to non-existent damage. To that end, this transfer appears to be sourced from assembly elements as the consistency of the image can vary from shot to shot. While fine film grain is retained and detail levels are relatively strong, the image can appear a bit soft at times. Part of this is very clearly a result of how the film was shot and where the camera's focal point was set - you can actually see characters go in and out of focus - but some of the softness comes from the quality of the elements at hand. The dead give away to this effect is the color accuracy. One moment Mitchum and some of the cast can appear to have a nice subtle and healthy tan, the next they can look pale and a bit washed out. Black levels are overall fairly consistent offering a solid sense of depth to the image. Overall this is a very good looking movie - particularly the later half of the film where the detail and black levels are rock solid and colors are rich and vibrant. Without a full and costly restoration effort this is probably the best this movie will look, even then, 'The Wonderful Country' looks pretty great in HD.
'The Wonderful Country' could have also used some additional TLC. The film's English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track is pretty solid, it does have a hollowness to it that keeps the track from being truly resonate. That isn't to say that the track is bad or anything, it just feels off, it's hard to quantify in specific terms beyond the persistent presence of a tinny sort of echo. To that end, the rest of the track is actually quite good. Dialogue clarity is crystal clear and you never have to struggle to hear what is being said. Dialogue, sound effects, and the wonderful Alex North score have plenty of space to breathe. The track keeps to the midranges and the levels are well balanced. The movie is largely conversational so even when the action kicks in, there shouldn't be any need to adjust your volume. Beyond the previously mentioned "tinny" effect, this track is still very good for a film that's closing in on its 60th birthday. Again, without an exhaustive and thorough restoration effort, it's probably not going to get much better than this - and that is still decent enough to be appreciated.
The Wonderful Country Trailer: (HD 2:56) There's something fun about the way movies used to be marketed, this trailer does a great job of making the movie look fun however it does show a lot of the film's major events so spoilers beware.
Man With The Gun Trailer: (HD 2:24) A classic black and white western trailer that does a solid job of setting up the flick.
Young Billy Young Trailer: (HD 2:15) The trailer does a great job of selling the action and making it look like a fun release.
I love a good Western. A great portion of my childhood was spent watching tall tales of the old west and whenever I get to sit down and discover a new one, I'm happy as a clam. It also helps when the movie is actually a genuinely solid piece of filmmaking. Robert Mitchum was always a strong performer and he gives the role of Martin Brady everything he's got, showing a softer and more sensitive side in addition to his traditional tough guy routine. Kino Lorber has done a pretty good job bringing 'The Wonderful Country' to Blu-ray with a fairly decent A/V presentation. The only extra features are a trio of trailers. If you're game for a solid Western adventure film, consider this one worth a look.