There was a time when the Western wasn’t considered an event film. Actors were expected to be able to ride a horse and draw a gun. They had to look good taming the wilderness. Nowadays, an actor can go his entire career without mussing up their hair with a ten gallon hat. Warner Home Video Western Classics Collection is a box set that would please any fan of cinema that goes jingle jangle. These six titles were produced by MGM in the ‘50s and ‘60s. These were made during a Cinemascope era when Hollywood offered massive desert landscapes to keep people from staying home and watching Gunsmoke on their tiny TVs.
Escape from Fort Bravo (1953 – 98 minutes) brings the Civil War to the wild west. Rebel soldiers escape from a Union prison in the middle of Arizona. It’s up to William Holden (The Wild Bunch) to round them up. He’s got to get them before the hostile Mescaleros. It’s a sweaty tale that features supporting roles from Eleanor Parker, John Forsythe (Dynasty), William Demarest (My Three Sons) and Richard Anderson (Six Million Dollar Man). The finale is a massive shoot out that will keep you ducking behind the sofa. Many Rivers to Cross (1955 – 95 minutes) takes us to a time when Kentucky was still considered the frontier. Robert Taylor (Quo Vadis) wants to head to the Northwest Territory to strike it rich in pelts. The only things blocking his journey are a loving Eleanor Parker and the Shawnee tribe. It’s Indian attacks in the land of Col. Sanders. The comic element takes the edge off the attacks. This film is special since it has James Arness right before he took the role of Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke. There’s also a teaming up of Alan Hale Jr (The Skipper) and Russell Johnson (the Professor) years before they’d be stranded on Gilligan’s Island. Let’s not forget Russ Tamblyn (Twin Peaks).
The Law and Jake Wade (1958 – 86 minutes) has Robert Taylor as an ex-outlaw that’s now a lawman. Richard Widmark, his old partner in crime, turns up. He wants a share of their big haul. He forces Taylor and his woman (Patricia Owens) to take a little trip into Comanche territory to uncover the loot. The key supporting roles are held by Henry Silva (Ocean’s Eleven) and DeForest Kelley (Star Trek).
Saddle the Wind (1958 – 84 minutes) is the last Robert Taylor film in the box set. He’s an ex-gunslinger who has taken up ranching. His wild brother, John Cassavetes (Rosemary’s Baby) wants a piece of his sibling. John should be calm since his fiancée is the famous singer Julie London. But he’s a firecracker fixing for a sibling fight. He opens up more than a can of Whupass. The script was written by Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone).
Cimarron (1960 – 147 minutes) is the top film in the box set. Glenn Ford is a man with multiple paths who plans to settle down with is new wife (Maria Schell). But instead of merely buying property, they arrive in time for the Oklahoma land rush. The footage of the pioneers dashing toward the unclaimed property is stunning. The high speed wagon stunts are intense. Remember that this was a time before CGI. They really did fill the frame with horses, wagons and humans. Those stuntmen are flying from the wrecks. The film follows Ford development of his town and newspaper. He slowly gains a soul when he sees the treatment of Indians in the territory. Ford is magnificent when he gets rough and nasty.
The Stalking Moon (1968 – 109 minutes) reunites the star (Gregory Peck), producer (Alan J. Pakula) and director (Richard Mulligan) of To Kill a Mockingbird. Instead of being a lawyer, Peck is now an army scout. He must help Eva Marie Saint (North By Northwest) and her son across the desert. They are pursued by a killer who wants the boy. It’s a tense pursuit flick. Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) is Peck’s best friend.
The half dozen titles in this box set are the perfect fix for fans of cowboy films. There’s plenty of shoot ups and Indian attacks. Cimarron is the best of the batch. It has that wide view of man taming the wild frontier. The Stalking Moon and Saddle the Wind also come up strong. The Western Classics Collection is a perfect gift for anyone who likes to pull back the La-Z-Boy handle and imagine they’re riding into the sunset.
The video for Escape From Fort Bravo is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The video on all the other films are 2.35:1 anamorphic. The transfers give a colorful view of the wild west. There’s not much wear on the image. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The sound is loud enough to hear the hooves approaching. The subtitles are in English and French.
Trailers for each of the six films are on the discs.
Warner Home Video Western Classics Collection is a rugged collection of cowboy action. This should please any viewer that asked Santa for a pair of spurs.
Warner Home Video presents The Western Classics Collection. Starring: Robert Taylor, Richard Widmark, Gregory Peck, Alan Hale Jr.. Boxset Contents 6 Movies on 6 discs. Rating: Not Rated. Released on DVD: August 26, 2008. Available at Amazon.