Directed by William A. Fraker
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 99 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English
MSRP: $ 19.99
Release Date: November 16, 2010
Review Date: November 4, 2010
Lee Marvin had been in films for well over a decade when he scored a Best Actor Oscar for the western comedy Cat Ballou. For a good portion of its running time, William A. Fraker’s Monte Walsh repeats some of the good-natured tomfoolery from that earlier picture, but the tone of the latter western becomes decidedly more mixed the longer it plays, and it quite suddenly and surprisingly turns from a rather light-hearted western lark to a fairly serious examination of the end of the Old West when cowboys were running out of range to ride and cattle to herd. The film features an excellent cast of leading and supporting actors playing trail hands so astutely that they look as if they were born in saddles, but the mixture of tones is an uneasy one, not aided by famed cinematographer William Fraker helming his first feature film.
Cowpuncher Monte Walsh (Lee Marvin) and his trail mate Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) live a happy-go-lucky nomadic life, riding the trails and taking jobs that come their way. They’re pleased when Cal Brennan (Jim Davis) offers them both jobs breaking wild horses and herding cattle because his ranch is an easy commute to their lady friends. Monte has a long-standing relationship with saloon hostess Martine Bernard (Jeanne Moreau) while Chet has been dating a widow (Allyn Ann McLerie) who owns the local hardware store. When the cattle herd ends up smaller than expected, Cal must let three of the hands go, among them Shorty Austin (Mitchell Ryan), but with cowboy work nonexistent, the three trail hands must find other ways to get money, a decision which will bring them into direct conflict with both Monte and Chet.
Lukas Heller and David Zelag Goodman based their screenplay on a story by Jack Schaefer (who wrote the classic Shane), and while there are plenty of rambunctious moments (giving the smelly cook an unwanted bath, rushing for the outhouse when he retaliates through his cooking, brawling in a saloon out of sheer boredom), the transition from silly to serious happens pretty abruptly as an accidental murder is committed and then things go from bad to worse for the men put out of work. There is constant discussion about the lack of employment, the end of an era, the changing of the face of the West (maybe too much; we get the point), but the main characters seem awfully naïve when their one-time friends turn on them out of desperation, and Monte’s climactic revenge sequence isn’t milked for nearly enough drama or suspense. William Fraker does what he can with the material, and he films one absolutely breathtaking scene where Monte breaks a bronco that had heretofore been unbreakable, but otherwise, the film doesn’t have much style or consistency.
Lee Marvin gets the best lines and gags in the movie and earns his top billing especially touching when his world begins changing in many ways and he’s grappling with emotional ties that are severing and feeling altogether helpless to do anything about it. Jack Palance plays a relaxed, good guy part for a change and is very appealing. French star Jeanne Moreau is wasted as the dancehall girl waiting for a proposal that will never come. Mitchell Ryan is so good in his part that one wishes the role could have been beefed up a bit to be worthy of the performance Ryan is giving. Jim Davis does his usual no-nonsense job as the ranch owner while G.D. Spradlin, Michael Conrad, Bo Hopkins, and Tom Heaton turn up as cowpokes who seem authentically tough and weathered.
The film’s Panavision 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in a transfer that’s anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. It’s an erratic transfer, rather fuzzy and overly bright one minute and nicely sharp and appealing the next. Indoor scenes generally appear sharper and more consistent with better color resolution than outdoor shots which can look a bit washed out color-wise. Flesh tones generally appear natural. Black levels are unexceptional, and details can sometimes be lost in shadows, but occasionally the shadow detail is quite a bit better than at other times. There is some minor print damage along with noticeable dust specks and some minor moiré in some herringbone jackets. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. Dialogue has been nicely recorded and is never dominated by John Barry’s score or the sound effects which also occupy the center channel in the mono mix, very typical for its era. In the quietest scenes, there is a bit of light hiss on occasion, and the recording features very little bass in the mix giving the sound an unnatural trebly sound, also somewhat typical of the era of the sound recording.
The film’s theatrical trailer has been cropped to fit a 4:3 window and looks much the worse for wear. It runs for 3 ¼ minutes.
There are additional promo trailers for Barnaby Jones, Walker Texas Ranger, The Wild Wild West, and Perry Mason.
3/5 (not an average)
Monte Walsh is an entertaining western with excellent star performances from its male leads, but this barebones release, while better than nothing, doesn’t offer the film in its best light with only slightly better than average picture and sound.