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Title: John Wayne Westerns Collection

Movie: :4stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :3stars:

HTS Overall Score:74


Once more Warner Brothers is tossing out another great boxset of classic films. John Wayne is pretty much as American as you can get, even above baseball. He dominated the western landscape for over 40 years, eclipsing such stars as Henry Fonda and Clint Eastwood, and giving audiences more one line catch phrases than even good old Arnie. This particular collection encompasses three older releases, two of them available by themselves with “Rio Bravo” being out of print and going for insane amounts of money on the third party market, and two brand new to Blu-ray films (“Train Robbers” and Cahill, U.S. Marshall) being added in for the first time ever. Ironically, the three previously released films are the best of the bunch, with the two newer films being from John Wayne’s fading career as an older man. All of them are still worthy additions, and now the only way to get “Rio Bravo” on Blu-ray without paying obscene scalper prices.

Rio Bravo :4.5stars:
Ah yes, “Rio Bravo”, the one John Wayne title that went out of print on Blu-ray some years back and has been stuck at obscene third party seller prices for quite some time. It’s no wonder why this title is commanding such a high price, as it is easily one of Wayne’s best movies. A tense western that adds in the “acting” ability of Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson to compliment the Duke. Set in the old old West it tells the tale of Presidio Country sheriff John Chance and his arrest of a local thug, Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) for murdering someone in a bar fight. Locking up the young hooligan, John Chance and his two deputies, an old man named Stumpy (Walter Brennan) and a drunk womanizer who just goes by “the Dude” (Dean Martin) must hunker down and prepare for the worst. It seems that Joe Burdette is the son of a wealthy ranch owner and daddy dearest is more than willing to break a few heads trying to get his son out of prison.

The town gets really crowded really fast as people start milling around the streets. Bounty hunters, ranch hands from the Burdette ranch, and any number of mean folks who just seem bent on breaking old Joe out of prison. Tensions run high as the number of people in town rises, setting off little skirmishes around town as itchy trigger fingers start tugging and people start dying. Romances between young men and seasoned women come into play and the entire 2 hour runtime is a great character study on the breaking points of certain people.

John Wayne sizzles in this role, giving one of the best western performances of his career. Directed by Howard Hawks, “Rio Bravo” is a perfect example of a classic western, and classic John Wayne at the highlight of his career. Sheriff John T. Chance is your classic hardboiled lawmen on the outside, but with a softer persona on the inside. He will do what it takes to makes sure the villain is handled correctly, but he does so without unnecessary harshness if at all possible. It reminds me just a little bit of “3:10 To Yuma” in that regards, just not as blatantly overt. The movie itself is a timeless story, a group of heroes is outnumbered, with untold amounts of bad men drooling outside like wolves among a herd of sheep, and come blazes or high water, the good old heroes are not going to budge. There are some standout performances in the movie, especially with The Duke and Ricky Nelson. Dean Martin has never been able to act his way outside of a paper bag, but he does a fine job as “the Dude” and doesn’t bring down the greatness of the film too much. It’s a near perfect western, and probably one of THE best John Wayne movies I’ve ever seen. Tense, quiet, visceral and sometimes rather violent (for the rating and days), it stands as a timeless classic.

The Searchers :5stars:
While “Rio Bravo” is considered ONE of John Wayne’s best movies, I have to say that “The Searchers” IS John Wayne’s best movie. Influencing directors from all walks and genres in the industry, it has touched the lives of everyone from Tarantino, Lucas, The Coen Brothers, and the list goes on and on. Ranked as one of the top twenty movies of all time by several reputable film sources, “The Searchers” has stood the test of time, and been heralded as one of John Ford’s most remarkable films to date. A study on racism and the effects of war and hatred on the human soul, it has analyzed to death in film schools all over the country and is still hotly debated to this day over what the overarching message is.

Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns home from the civil war, after having served for the Confederate states for the duration of the war. Upon arriving home, he is greeted by friends and family alike, only to be swept up into another conflict. After dozens of cattle are stolen from local homesteads, the local Texas Ranger, Sam Clayton (Ward Bond) forms a search party and tries to deputize Ethan to join them. Cynically refusing the deputization, Ethan, Sam and the rest of the menfolk all track down the pilfered beasts only to find them dead some miles out. Realizing that this was most likely a ruse to get them away from their homes, the men come back to find out that his home is burned, most of his family is dead and his young nieces have been kidnapped by the Comanche Indians. What follows is a search party of epic proportions, one that will define the characters of several people in the party, as well as the Comanche chief Cicatrice (Henry Brandon) who has taken the young girls.

Bluntly put, “The Searchers” is one of those movies that has been analyzed to death over the years. It’s been debated, it’s been argued that the movie is a study on hatred, on personal hatred, as well as blatant racism and even that it is a study on civil war and the treatment of blacks. My opinion is that it has factors of all of these sentiments in the film, racism being the most prevalent. Both Ethan Edwards and Chief Cicatrice are both wildly racist and hate filled. Cicatrice from his treatment at the hands of the white man (as much as I am very pro USA, I have to admit that our handling of the Native American’s was poor at BEST), and Ethan Edwards is still bitterly angry and resentful at the Confederacy having lost the civil war. Ironically his bitterness and prejudice are some of the very REASONS the civil was fought to begin with! Their racism and hatred of the opposing side drives them to do unthinkable things, of which Ethan is on the precipice of committing one of the most heinous acts of the whole movie, before being pulled back to sanity.

I can’t say what you’ll get out of “The Searchers”, but I can guarantee that you will get SOMETHING out of the film to gestate on for a while. It’s a magnificent western, with all the trappings of cowboys, Indian’s and gun fighting, but it’s also a very introspective piece that challenges the viewer to take a look at their own inner demons and analyze just what bits of ancient hatred we have flowing through our own veins. No matter how we’ve tried to hide or mask it.

Fort Apache :4stars:
“Fort Apache” is a bit of an odd film amongst John Wayne’s regular lineup. It’s the oldest of the films in this boxset, made in 1948, it carries a strangely harsh look at the American treatment of the Native Americans, but does so in a very exaggerated and satirical way. Taking the normal hero worship of the Yankee military and the evil escapades of the Native Americans to a whole new level, it paints itself a picture of racism and blatant demonization of the Native Americans. Ironically that’s not the MESSAGE of the movie, as it really is an overly satirical look at how we sometimes view those days. Usually the guys in blue are the good guys, and the spear wielding savages as the villain, and “Fort Apache” paints the same picture. However, while the picture is painted in that light, the underlying theme is very much demonizing the very same thing that we so often lionize in these movies. The oppression and the mistreatment of the Native Americans may seem to be a joking matter, but really the movie is poking fun at the audience’s natural desire to SEE those things on screen.

Henry Fonda plays a very disturbing, yet fascinating role as Lt. Owen Thursday, playing a sort of hero and villain all rolled up into one. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the very laid back Captain Kirby York. York is expected to take over the role of commander for Fort Apache with the exiting of their current commander, but is taken aback when Owen Thursday, a west point graduate, takes the role. Lt. Thursday is a monstrosity of a character, ignoring the sage advice of me like Kirby York and treating the savages like…well…. Savages. As you can probably guess there is a lot of chaos and pain to follow, along with multiple sub plots involving Lt. Thursday’s daughter, Philadelphia (Shirley Temple) and a young soldier who is deemed “less fit” due to being not a “gentleman” in Lt. Thursday’s eyes. What follows is a character study, much like “The Searchers” as the two main characters create a perfect foil for the lionization and demonization of the actions that happened during this time period.

“Fort Apache” is remarkably postmodern in comparison to many other films of that era. Taking the very stereotypes American audiences loves and treating them with a little bit more of a darker twist, and forging something uniquely harsh and brutally real for that day and age. As much as I love the ending, and love the concept, there are a few flaws that hamper the efforts of the movie ever so slightly. The main thing being that the movie just can’t escape the every so slight cheesiness of the 1940’s. Today lives and breathes post modernistic mantra, but back in the 40’s it was not as obvious and not as well traveled. Pieces of the movie come off as a bit awkward, although the ending result is still quite excellent.

The Train Robbers :4stars:
The 1970’s was a waning time period for the Duke. The classic western was starting to fade as more and more violent cinema began invading the world. John Wayne was especially repulsed by these “obscene films” as he put them, and refused to make movies in that vein, still using his production studio to pump out family friendly westerns that fit his particular mold. I personally see WHY he did what he did, and actually applaud him for his efforts at keeping to his principles. I love Clint Eastwood and the more aggressive western’s he makes, but John Wayne’s family friendly classic films are a legacy from a time period long in our rear view window. Making both “The Train Robbers” and “Cahill, U.S. Marshall” a few years apart, he tried his best to rekindle that flame, but both movies were met with tepid audience reactions, most likely after having been exposed to a much more harsh and brutal vein of movie going. Both are still extremely fun movies, but lack that charm and excitement that many of the Duke’s earlier movies had going for them.

“The Train Robbers” is actually set a few years AFTER the actual train robbery in question. Years ago a bandit had stolen and hidden over ½ a million dollars in gold from a robbery, and years later his widow has come forward and offered to lead the hired guns of the railroad to its location. Mrs. Lowe (the widow, played by Ann Margaret) doesn’t want her son to grow up knowing only the legacy of her bandit husband, so she decides to do the right thing and lead the men to the gold location and return it to its rightful owners. She offers the merc leader, Lane (John Wayne) and his men the $50,000 reward money as reward for their service in taking up the job, and refuses to take a penny for herself.

Naturally, as things go along, tensions start to rise. Mrs. Lowe starts to waver in her desire to do what right, and even Lane starts to feel the pull of greed when that much money is at stake. Old animosities arise once more, mostly between Lane and his second in command, Grady (Rod Taylor), and new animosities are formed once the greed sets in amongst the men.

The movie itself is basically a chase film, as the heroes are pursued by other less savory characters, some of whom were the surviving thieves. Struggling to stay out of their cross hairs, Lane and his men have to make a mad rush for the Mexican border, get the gold, and get out with as little incident as possible. Not only are they pursued by the thieves and ner do wells, but there is a shadowy figure in the background who neither speaks, not makes himself known for a majority of the film. Played by Ricardo Montalban, his character is easily the best and most well-conceived character of the entire film, and his final moments on screen are the most poignant of the movie.

It’s not a fantastic film, but it’s still a very solid western in John Wayne’s repertoire, and serves to act as a pleasant watching if you love the Duke. It’s a bit pedantic in light of other 70’s western stars, as Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood took the American Western to new heights, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Cahill, U.S. Marshall :3stars:
Shot in the same year as “The Train Robbers”, “Cahill, U.S. Marshall” is one of the last handful of films made as the aging star faded from the limelight. Playing Cahill, one of the most feared Lawmen in the west, Wayne is an aging lawmen who has lived a rough life. While he has become one of the most feared lawmen of the day, he has neglected his home life and been a rather poor father to his two sons. Heading out to capture some fugitives who have escaped, he brings back the survivors to the town of Jefferson Davis only to find that the local bank has been robbed. Heading off to pursue the thieves, Cahill is going to come up for a bit of a rude awakening. Not only was the bank robbery an inside job, but unbeknownst to Cahill, the insiders were his own sons.

The majority of the movie takes place as a chase, much like “The Train Robbers”, but the traditional western plotline is the furthest thing from the actual plot. We see some action, and some traditional western confrontations, but the majority of movie deal with mending the damage that Cahill has perpetuated with his two sons. The songs themselves are in a bit of a pickle, as they respect their father, and really would like to follow in his honorable footsteps, but they are also way in over their heads with the bandit leader, Fraser (George Kennedy), the vicious leader of the bandits.

While the sons keep their silence, another group of outlaws has been captured for the crime and sentenced to death, further deepening the boy’s complicity in the murder. Cahill knows something is up with his sons, but can’t seem to break through to them and find out just what is bothering them. The rest of the film is a dance that deals with doing what is right, and dealing with the fears of both your closest friends and deepest enemies.

“Cahill, U.S. Marshall” is easily the weakest of the new set, and even the Duke himself acknowledged that there were some serious flaws in the script and the directing. Much of that may have had to do with John Ford’s, a lifetime friend of John Wayne, dying of cancer right during the middle of filming, but no one can know for sure. Either way, Cahill is a bit of a mixed bag, with a great premise, but mediocre end results. Wayne coasts through the role and doesn’t seem to put his heart and soul into his work and the rumors about him being broken up over Ford’s slow demise holds much more water in that regards.


Rated PG and Not Rated respectively

Video :4stars:

Rio Bravo :4stars:
“Rio Bravo” sports a very nice looking 1080p encode. It’s the same video encoded that was done years ago, but it is still a very nice looking encode, even by modern standards. There is some black crush and a little bit of heavy grain, but there is still plenty of fine detail and colors are warm and vivid. Sometimes I think a bit TOOO warm, as the reds can be pushed a bit hot. The film has a decidedly red and brown push to the colors and you can see those ranging from the blood red shirt on Chance to the deep earthy browns of the wooden town. I didn’t see much macroblocking, and DNR is distinctly gone from the image, leaving us with a very good looking picture.

The Searchers :4.5stars:
“The Searchers” was given a brand new master and restoration work done on it 7 years ago or so, and even with modern transfers it still looks INCREDIBLE for a catalog title. The grain structure is nice and defined with amazing facial detail. The scenes with Ethan holding up his Winchester to his face leaves the viewer marveling at the distinct detail that is replicated with the crow’s feet around Wayne’s eyes, and the slight weathering on his hands. Colors are bright and cheery, with plenty of visual pop. Black levels are incredibly strong and full of impressive detail. The image isn’t PERFECT by today’s standards, but it still holds up VERY VERY well.

Fort Apache :3.5stars:
The 1.37:1 VC-1 encoded transfer for “Fort Apache” looks pretty decent considering it hasn’t had a remaster in quite some time and VC-1 codec isn’t as efficient as AVC. It still holds its own quite well, showcasing some great black levels and beautiful looking contrast. Sometimes the detail is a obscured by the softness in the image, and there’s some speckles and dirt, but overall it retains a very filmic look and the audience should be well pleased with the results. It may not be on par with some of Warner’s more impressive restorations, but I was rather pleased with the look of the film.

The Train Robbers :4stars:
“The Train Robbers”, being a bit newer and with less need for a full restoration, looks quite good as catalog titles go. It was one of the last films shot by William Clothier, who worked closely with Wayne on other feature films, and the wonderful scenery shots look exceptional under his finely tuned hand. Colors are bright and solid, with great saturation and the outdoor nature shots look amazing. Sometimes there’s a bit of softness to the image, and the grain looks a bit frozen at times, but overall the movie is a solid entry into Warner’s catalog encodes. Given a new AVC encode, unlike the previous 3, it seems to benefit a bit from the lower bitrate AVC can provide with more efficiency.

Cahill, U.S. Marshall :3stars:
“Cahill, U.S. Marshall” is the most disappointing of the catalog transfers. Right off the bat I noticed a distinct layer of softness covering the image, one that doesn’t look at all natural. Upon close inspection it looks like there was a heavy dose of DNR applied to the images, as faces look waxy and colors are rather desaturated. There’s some good pop with the greens and blues, but most of the time the colors look a tad washed out and the image a bit flat. Black levels are satisfactory, but nothing to write home about. It looks like the master was taken from a decades old DVD master and the result is just rather mediocre.

Audio :3.5stars:


Rio Bravo :3.5stars:
“Rio Bravo” was originally released on Blu-ray with a lossy 1.0 Dolby Digital track, but with the new reprinting, Warner has decided to give us an upgraded 1.0 DTS-HD MA track which fleshes out the audio just a bit. Adding a bit more depth and warmth to the limited range of a 1.0 track, “Rio Bravo” has some very good dialog, with great localization. There’s not much going on in the front soundstage though, and it shows with a limited range and next to no LFE, even baked into that main channel. It’s solid, and does the job, but isn’t exactly going to light your hair on fire.

The Searchers :4stars:
While “Rio Bravo” was reprinted with a new DTS-HD MA track, “The Searchers” is still stuck with the same 192 kbps Dolby Digital track that it originally came with in 2006. That’s not to say that the audio is a bad track. 192 kbps is double what a standard mono track has on DVD so the extra bitrate helps quite a bit and the newer restoration work on the video encode certainly seems to be copied in the audio department. The score and the sound effects sound impressively weighty and show some nice clarity. Not really any LFE to speak of, but the front sound stage is well designed and shows great directionality (as limited as that can be). A well done Mono track that hasn’t been warped into a faux 5.1 track, which will certainly please purists like myself.

Fort Apache :3stars:
“Fort Apache” is a rather limited track that hasn’t really aged exceptionally well. The score is rather boxy and the vocals can be quite a bit tinny at times. There is a solid and well done balance to the track, but it’s not going to be winning an award. Using older capturing techniques, it just doesn’t have a lot to offer besides the vocals and even those are rather dampened by the tinny strained tones at high volumes. It’s solid, and does what it does, but don’t expect something reminiscent of more modern tracks.

The Train Robbers, Cahill U.S. Marshall :4stars:
Shot in the same year, “Cahill” and “The Train Robbers” sound surprisingly similar in quality. Vocals are clean and clear, with some impressive use of explosions and gunfire sounding decently heavy. There’s no use of surrounds or of heavy bass, but the front stage is done quite well, with solid fidelity and the vocal clarity shows no signs of distortion or tinny after effects. For a mono track you really can’t do much better.

Extras: :3stars:

The Train Robbers
• John Wayne: Working with a Western Legend
• The Wayne Train
• Theatrical Trailer
Cahill, U.S. Marshall
• Commentary by Andrew V. McLaglen
• Featurette: The Man Behind the Star
• Theatrical Trailer
Fort Apache
• Commentary by F.X. Feeney
• Monument Valley: John Ford Country
• Theatrical Trailer
The Searchers
• The Searchers: An Appreciation - 2006 Documentary
• A Turning of the Earth: John Ford, John Wayne and The Searchers – 1998 documentary narrated by John Milius
• Introduction by John Wayne’s son and The Searchers co-star Patrick Wayne
• Commentary by director/John Ford biographer Peter Bogdanovich
• Vintage Behind the cameras segments from the Warner Bros. Presents TV Series
• Theatrical Trailer
Rio Bravo
• Commentary by John Carpenter and Richard Schickel
• Documentary: Commemoration: Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo
• Featurette: Old Tucson: Where the Legends Walked
• Theatrical Trailer

Overall: :3.5stars:

Purchasing THIS boxset is going to depend on the individual John Wayne fan due to several titles being older Blu-ray releases. If you have the original 3 titles that have been out for years, than buying the individual titles of “Cahill, U.S. Marshall” and “The Train Robbers” is the more prudent course of action, however, if you don’t have these titles, then this set is a very good buy, with some of Wayne’s best movies in the package and given a very nice looking video treatment (except for “Cahill”). Definitely a solid recommendation in my eyes.

Additional Information:

Starring: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Jeffrey Hunter, Henry Fonda,
Directed by: Howard Hawks : John Ford : John Ford : Burt Kennedy : Andrew V. McLaglen
Written by: Jules Furthman : Frank S. Nugent, Alan Le May (Novel) : Frank S. Nugent : Burt Kennedy : Harry Julian Fink, Rita M. Fink
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 VC-1 / 1.78:1 VC-1 /1.37:1 AVC / 2.40:1 AVC / 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: ENGLISH: DTS - HD MA Mono, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese DD Mono
Studio: Warner Brothers
Rated: Not Rated/Not Rated/Not Rated/PG/PG
Runtime: 141 minutes : 119 minutes : 128 minutes : 92 minutes : 102 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: June 2nd, 2015

Buy [IJohn Wayne Westerns Collection[/I] Blu-ray on Amazon

Recommendation: Solid Buy

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2,072 Posts
Thanks for the review. I remember watching old John Wayne movies on tv when I was a kid on those lazy Sunday afternoons. I will have to check this out.
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