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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: "Chisum"



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#1 of 10 OFFLINE   StuartGalbraith

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Posted June 04 2003 - 08:53 PM

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DVD Review – Chisum
Executive Producer, Michael Wayne; Producer and Screenplay, Andrew J. Fenady; Director, Andrew V. McLaglen; Director of Photography, William H. Clothier; Art Director, Carl Anderson; Editor, Robert Simpson; Music, Dominic Frontiere.
Cast: John Wayne, Forrest Tucker, Christopher George, Ben Johnson, Bruce Cabot, Glenn Corbett, Patric Knowles, Andrew Prine, Richard Jaeckel, Lynda Day, Geoffrey Deuel, Pamela McMyler, John Agar, Glen Langan, Hank Worden, Christopher Mitchum.
A Batjac Productions, Inc./Warner Bros. Production. A Warner Bros. Release. Color (prints by Technicolor). Panavision. 112 minutes. MPAA Rating: G. Released July 29, 1970.

DVD: Released by Warner Home Video. Street Date June 3, 2003. $19.98
2.35:1/16:9. Dolby Digital Mono. Special Features: Audio Commentary by director McLaglen, contemporary making-of documentary, trailer.

Reviewed by Stuart Galbraith IV

“Chisum! John Chisum! Weary, saddle-worn.”
—from “The Ballad of John Chisum”

By 1970, John Wayne was pretty weary and saddle-worn himself. His four-pack-a-day habit of (unfiltered) smokes had cost him a lung, which added an alarming raspiness to his familiar drawl. His backbreaking schedule of constant work (he starred in eight features between 1967-1970) and He-Man diet of whiskey and steaks made him barrel-chested and etched deep lines in his puffy face. Though he won an Oscar for True Grit the year before, the vast majority of his pictures during this period were generally uninspired.

And yet it’s hard not like such genial, eager-to-please oaters as El Dorado (1967), Rio Lobo (1970), and, new to DVD, Chisum. Wayne had become a legend in his own time, and the people who made these later pictures knew it. Films like The Cowboys (1972) and The Shootist (1976) cleverly played up on Wayne’s persona, while less inspired outings like Chisum, though elegiac in their own way, mainly cruised on The Duke’s considerable star power.

Chisum’s story falls back on that old chestnut, water rights and land grabbing. The main grabber is wealthy Lawrence Murphy, played by Forrest Tucker, a legendary actor in his own right, but not for the same reason as Wayne. Wayne’s John Chisum, a cattle king with money to burn, is virtually the last holdout in Lincoln County, New Mexico, and therein lies the drama.

First-time viewers will be surprised to see both Billy the Kid (Geoffrey Deuel) and Pat Garrett (Glenn Corbett) playing key roles in the narrative, and indeed many of the main characters, including Chisum and Murphy, really did exist in what became known as the Lincoln County Range War.

Though Garrett’s participation in the conflict is questionable, the basic facts of the incident and its characters are duplicated in the film, which is interesting from a historical perspective but less so as drama. It lacks an eye for detail in which such latter-day recreations as Tombstone (1993) excelled, and for those unaware of the story’s origins, Chisum plays much like a beefed-up B-Western, with Tucker your standard “brain heavy” and Richard Jaeckel the requisite “dog heavy.”

Ultimately, Chisum is overloaded with characters, which both works against the film and is its best asset. Gunslingers, shopkeepers, Indians, cattle barons, etc., come and go, and the story seems to take forever to get anywhere. Wayne’s later movies are often criticized for having weak younger actors (Glen Campbell, Christopher Mitchum, Patrick Wayne, etc.) in major parts, and indeed Corbett and Deuel hog a lot of screentime away from Wayne, who nearly becomes a supporting player in his own movie.

On the other hand, genre fans will delight in the bigger-than-usual roles given to such Western icons like Ben Johnson (a year before he won an Oscar himself, for The Last Picture Show) and Hank Worden (crazy Mose Harper in The Searchers), as well as such familiar faces as Bruce Cabot (King Kong), Patric Knowles, John Agar, Abraham Sofaer, and Glen Langan.

For Western fans, such actors are like old friends, and Chisum exudes with leisurely confidence. Released on the heels of Wayne’s popular Oscar win, the film has “crowd-pleaser” written all over it, from the iconic shots of Wayne – horse, six-guns and all seen in profile high on a hill – to Merle Haggard’s not-bad musical interlude.

How is the Transfer?
The DVD of Chisum does justice to William Clothier’s fine Panavision photography. Chisum has better color and perhaps less grain than the recent DVDs of Rio Lobo and Big Jake, made at about the same time. Chisum was shot in Durango, Mexico, and the landscapes are heavy on the browns (the film was shot in late-summer), but the DVD has singularly blue skies. The mono sound is fine.

Special Features
Special features include a contemporary documentary, “John Wayne & Chisum,” a promotional short, really, which awkwardly discusses the story’s real-life origins while showing the filmmakers on location. Presented in full frame, the short is entertaining and the material is in good shape with fine color.

When Warner Home Video first released the classic John Ford-John Wayne Western The Searchers (1956) to DVD way back in 1997, they included as a special feature trailers from a dozen or so of Wayne’s movies. By far the most entertaining of these trailers was the one for Chisum, which really knew how to sell the picture in the wake of Wayne’s Oscar win. The 16:9 trailer is included here as well.

Andrew V. McLaglen’s screen-specific audio commentary is informative as both an account of the film’s production and its historical antecedents, and shares warm memories of working with Wayne, Johnson, et. al.

Parting Thoughts
Chisum is neither the best nor the worst of Wayne’s later films. It has too many characters and not enough story, even though it’s based on historical fact. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to like for its seasoned cast, nice ‘scope photography, and action sequences. Wayne, like Chisum, still keeps goin’ on.


#2 of 10 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted June 04 2003 - 09:08 PM

Welcome Stuart and thank you for a fine review. Crawdaddy

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#3 of 10 OFFLINE   Frank Anderson

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Posted June 04 2003 - 09:26 PM

Excellent review Stuart. This is the first movie I can remember seeing at a theater after coming to the United States. It will always be one of my favorites.

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#4 of 10 OFFLINE   Kirk Tsai

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Posted June 04 2003 - 09:56 PM

Mr. Galbraith, author of Emperor and the Wolf? If so, you'll be happy to know that Kurosawa is one of the most beloved film directors on this board.

#5 of 10 OFFLINE   Randy Korstick

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Posted June 05 2003 - 06:44 AM

Very good review Stuart with alot of knowledgable information. Posted Image
This is not a classic film but its a very fun film for Western and John Wayne fans. I recommend it.
...When you eliminate the impossible whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth

#6 of 10 OFFLINE   Jack Briggs

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Posted June 05 2003 - 09:01 AM

Stuart, the quality of our membership is one of the many things that sets HTF apart from the others. It's quite an honor, therefore, to have a writer of your caliber among our ranks. This and your other review make for an auspicious debut. Welcome aboard.

#7 of 10 OFFLINE   Lew Crippen

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Posted June 05 2003 - 09:26 AM

A fine review. I appreciate your ability to capture what makes this film enjoyable, but at the same time not over praising it for qualities that do not exist. As with your review of Is Paris Burning?, I also found a great deal of interest in your history lesson.
¡Time is not my master!

#8 of 10 OFFLINE   Jim Peavy

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Posted June 05 2003 - 11:38 AM

And the best book written on japanese SF and kaiju films, Monsters are Attacking Tokyo!.

A warm welcome from me too, Stuart!
"I just pre-ordered I DRINK YOUR BLOOD, even though I have no job."

#9 of 10 OFFLINE   John Madia

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Posted June 20 2003 - 07:00 PM

Thanks for the review. I'm glad to see that a Wayne film has finally gotten some special features. Does anyone know if Cahill U.S. Marshall also contains audio commentary by McLaglen?

#10 of 10 OFFLINE   EdG

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Posted June 21 2003 - 08:28 AM

[quote] Does anyone know if Cahill U.S. Marshall also contains audio commentary by McLaglen? [quote]

Yes it does John.





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