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Blu-Ray : Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: April 6th, 2021 Movie Release Year: 1957

Western Classics II

Overview -

Kino Lorber Studio Classics continues its love for the old west with Western Classics II delivering The Redhead from Wyoming, Pillars of the Sky, and Gun for a Coward to Blu-ray for the very first time. Each film delivers a solid A/V presentation and an audio commentary to punch up the bonus features. These may not be the best entries in the genre, but they’re entertaining and worth adding to the collection. Recommended.

THE REDHEAD FROM WYOMING (1953)

In this action-packed, 1870s western, screen legend Maureen O'Hara (Miracle on 34th Street, Against All Flags) sparkles as Kate Maxwell, a saloon proprietress caught between her feelings for suave promoter Jim Averell (William Bishop, The Texas Rangers) and the town's appealing, but less flamboyant, sheriff (Alex Nicol, Red Ball Express). Unknown to Kate, Jim, who has set her up to buy and sell mavericks, is using her saloon as a clearinghouse for rustled beef. There's plenty more about Jim that Kate doesn't know, and by the time she learns the truth, both she and the town are in grave danger. With villainy stalking them at every turn, Kate and the sheriff must battle overwhelming odds to set things right—if they can! The athletic agility and cool beauty associated with Maureen O'Hara are well displayed here. She rides the range with skill, her red hair and makeup undisturbed, as she expertly fires her Winchester. Beautifully shot in Technicolor by the great Winton C. Hoch (The Searchers, The Quiet Man) and co-starring Robert Strauss (Attack), Gregg Palmer (Taza, Son of Cochise), Jack Kelly (TV's Maverick) and Dennis Weaver (The Gallant Hours). The Redhead from Wyoming is the Old West at its thundering and glorious best!

Special Features and Technical Specs:

  • Audio Commentary by critic Samm Deighan
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature

PILLARS OF THE SKY (1956)

From George Marshall, the acclaimed director of Destry Rides Again, The Ghost Breakers, Murder, He Says, The Blue Dahlia and The Mating Game, comes this action-packed cavalry western starring Jeff Chandler (Red Ball Express), Dorothy Malone (The Tarnished Angels), Lee Marvin (Prime Cut) and Ward Bond (Canyon Passage). First Sergeant Emmett Bell (Chandler) faces off with Apache chieftain Kamiakin (Michael Ansara, Texas Across the River) in this nuanced portrayal of racial tensions between Native Americans and white settlers in 1860s Oregon Country. Bell must lead his men and civilian charges on a mad dash to federal sanctuary. Pillars of the Sky is a tale of frontier survival that's truly an action-thriller set against widescreen western horizons.

Special Features and Technical Specs:

  • Audio Commentary by critic Toby Roan
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature

GUN FOR A COWARD (1956)

Screen great Fred MacMurray (Murder, He Says) stars as ranch herder Will Keough, who wants nothing more than to tend to his cattle and live in peace. His two younger brothers, Hade (Dean Stockwell, Compulsion) and Bless (Jeffrey Hunter, A Kiss Before Dying) are as different as night and day—Hade is wild and reckless and Bless refuses to use a gun, branding him a coward. Making matters worse is the brothers' merciless mother (Josephine Hutchinson, Son of Frankenstein) and Will's sweetheart (Janice Rule, Invitation to a Gunfighter) who finds herself drawn to the sensitive Bless. Ultimately, a showdown will have to take place—but which sibling will survive? Wonderfully directed by Abner Biberman (The Price of Fear) and co-starring Chill Wills (Giant) and John Larch (Play Misty for Me).

Special Features and Technical Specs:

  • Audio Commentary by critic Lee Gambin and actress Rutanya Alda
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature

OVERALL:
Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
3-Film 3-Disc Collection
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p AVC/MPEG-4
Length:
264
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.37:1, 2.35:1
Audio Formats:
English: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
Subtitles/Captions:
English SDH
Special Features:
Trailers
Release Date:
April 6th, 2021

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

From the very beginning, the Western has been a mainstay of filmmaking. A studio could spend a lot on big stars with elaborate location shoots - or they could go cheap and recycle sets on the backlot with a cast of no-name B-movie actors. Regardless of production values, Westerns were a profitable genre for decades. With so many films coming out from so many studios; more than a few got lost in the noise.

KLSC’s Western Classics II resurrects three lost Universal Studios favorites with the Maureen O’Hara’s 1953 adventure The Redhead from Wyoming, Jeff Chandler’s 1956 action-thriller Pillars of the Sky, and Fred MacMurray’s 1957 family drama/actioner Gun for a Coward. Each of these films brings a very different approach to the genre, but each does an impressive job setting up big action sequences with an impressive cast. 

The Redhead From Wyoming


Kate Maxwell (Maureen O’Hara) is a saloon owner gambling big on a new location going into business with promoter Jim Averell (William Bishop). Little does she know, Jim’s a rustler using her name as a brand to steal cattle out from under a local rancher. When the straight-arrow Sheriff (Alex Nicol) gets involved, Kate will have to choose a side and live with the consequences. While this film can meander a bit, it comes together in the last half setting the stakes for a big showdown and a hell of an action sequence. Great performances from O’Hara, Bishop, and Nicol keep this show aloft through the slow stretches. I appreciated there’s a romantic subtext, but it doesn’t define O’Hara’s role allowing her character to stand alone and pick up a rifle of her own when the time comes.
3.5/5 

Pillars of the Sky 

Jeff Chandler is Emmett Bell, the First Sergeant of a division of Indian scouts policing an Apache reservation in Oregon. When white settlers encroach on the reservation land. Outmanned and outgunned, Bell and his men must lead a convoy of innocent people through hostile territory. Chandler once again finds himself in the comfortable position of being a reluctant man of action. There’s a love-triangle subplot that fails to meaningfully materialize, but when the action picks up it’s a heck of a thrill ride.
3.5/5

Gun for a Coward 

Not every western has to be about settlers versus native people with the cavalry riding in to save them. Sometimes plenty of action can come out of a good old-fashioned family drama. Fred MacMurray is the oldest of the three Keough brothers who have carved out a profitable living raising cattle on the far western frontier. His youngest brother (Dean Stockwell) is a brash hothead. His middle brother (Jeffrey Hunter) is slow to a fight branding him a coward. But when a rustling outfit threatens their cattle and their lives, the brothers will have to find a way to set aside their differences for the fight to come. This one may move a bit slower, but it’s the most rewarding. While a basic family drama at heart; the great performances and the big frontier feel sets it apart.
4/5

After the first volume of KLSC’s Western Classics, it’s nice to see some more genre classics find a home on Blu-ray. These are the sort of films that don’t get a lot of recognition and are rarely ever seen outside of a late-night run on TCM. As a fan of the genre, I love to discover new westerns and these collections have been a treat. Some tend to be on the iffy side or outright skippable, but lately, the newer releases coming out of Kino Lorber Studio Classics have been some better top-tier efforts. Granted, the three films found in this set might not have been worth solo release efforts, but together and at this price point they’re an attractive addition to the collection. Not the greatest movies ever made, but each is entertaining in its own way and well worth checking out.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Western Classics II arrives from Kino Lorber Studio Classics in a three-disc Blu-ray set. Each disc gets its own standard keepcase bound together with a paperboard slipbox. Each disc loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.

Video Review

Ranking:

Each of these films comes out of Universal’s deep catalog. In the past that would lead to some measure of worry about the quality of the masters, but each film appears free of troublesome edge enhancement or compression artifacts. These aren’t picture-perfect, but they’re pretty great. Fresh restorations would have been amazing, but again, these aren't high-demand titles so we're pretty lucky with what we're getting. 

Redhead from Wyoming  

With an impressive 1.37:1 1080p transfer, Redhead from Wyoming is a bold bright and colorful western with that Technicolor flair. This master appears a little dated, but it’s nothing of the old Universal catalog releases that were riddled with edge enhancement. This image is clean and clear with impressive details and image depth. Costuming and set design and the scenic locations are given their due. Some slight judder is present, and there are a few very brief moments of color separation. Slight speckling pops up but nothing serious or distracting. All in all, this is a pretty great-looking transfer. 4/5

Pillars of the Sky 

Arriving on Blu-ray with a 1080p 2.35:1 transfer that brings another Technicolor marvel to bold colorful life. This master may not be in the greatest shape, there is more frame judder and much more apparent speckling than Redhead. While colors are bold with terrific primary presence, the rest of the image is a bit lacking. Details never really come to life and the grain structure is thick and smeary. As such facial features, clothing, and scenery detail can fluctuate from shot to shot. Not terrible by any means but not ideal either.
3.5/5

Gun for a Coward 

Similar to Pillars, Coward doesn’t pick up a new scan or restoration for this 1080p 2.35:1. This bold colorful cinemascope production has some beautiful colors and scenery, but it doesn’t quite come to desirable HD life. Middle and close-up shots are decent but wide shots and establishing shots are on the soft side. Film grain is thick and smeary. Speckling is present and becomes more intrusive around optical transitions and fades. Again not terrible, certainly an upgrade over DVD and watchable, but could have used a fresh scan/restoration effort.

3/5

Audio Review

Ranking:

The good news for each of these films is they come with solid DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio tracks. While there are a little bit of age-related artifacts here and there; some hiss and occasional pop, overall these tracks are clean and clear. I felt Redhead from Wyoming was a bit on the quiet side, I had to pop the volume a time or two but nothing terrible. Pillars of the Sky and Gun for a Coward each offered impressive audio tracks allowing the big open vistas to play into the mix for the large action sequences. The cattle stampede in Coward is a big highlight. All around solid audio mixes for each film that get the job done.

The Redhead from Wyoming - 3.5
Pillars of the Sky - 3.5
Gun for a Coward - 4/5

Special Features

Ranking:

The Redhead from Wyoming

  • Audio Commentary featuring Samm Deighan
  • Trailers 

Pillars of the Sky

  • Audio Commentary featuring Toby Roan
  • Trailers


Gun for a Coward

  • Audio Commentary featuring Lee Gambin
  • Theatrical Trailers

Final Thoughts

The Redhead from Wyoming, Pillars of the Sky, and Gun for a Coward may not be the biggest fan-favorite westerns to come out of Universal’s back catalog, but they’re certainly entertaining adventures. With great casts and solid directing, each of these movies passes the time nicely. Collected together in Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ Western Classics II - you get three fun flicks at a great value. The Redhead From Wyoming looks the best of the bunch with Pillars of the Sky and Gun for a Coward rocking decent but older masters that could use a little TLC. Each film lands with an informative audio commentary to prop up the extra features. If you’re a genre fan you’re getting your money’s worth. Recommended