The Wonderful Country (MGM MOD)
Directed by Robert Parrish
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic Running Time: 98 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Release Date: available now
Review Date: March 18, 2012
Martin Brady (Robert Mitchum) is employed as a hired gun for the Castro brothers who are moving guns and money back and forth across the border between Mexico and Texas. On his latest mission into Texas, his horse rears and he’s thrown off severely breaking his leg. While recuperating, Brady is approached by Major Stark Colton (Gary Merrill) of the Army who wants Brady's expert knowledge of the Mexican terrain to use as a guide when the Army goes to clear off some rampaging Apaches from the area. He’s also approached by Captain Rucker (Albert Dekker) of the Texas Rangers who also offers him a job with them. Brady considers each offer seriously since he’d like to reestablish himself in the U.S. because of his attraction to Major Colton’s beautiful wife Helen (Julie London) who’s trapped in an unhappy marriage, but a lethal encounter with a trigger-happy ranch hand forces Brady back across the border to once again work for the larcenous Castros.
Robert Ardrey’s screenplay (based on a novel by Tom Lea who has a cameo role in the movie) saves the action for the film’s final quarter hour: a rambunctious chase with the Apaches in a wagon filled with stolen Army artillery and Brady’s final defense against an assassin out to kill him. Parrish directs these sequences with quite a bit of animation that’s sadly missing in the rest of the movie. For the remainder of the film, there’s a great deal of talk as Brady hears one proposal after another to try to get him to come home to the States (he was born in Missouri though he’s spent most of his adult life in Mexico), but it isn’t talk that much engages us. The locations are beautiful and wonderfully captured on film, but the film’s cast of well known character actors just don’t succeed in giving the movie a great deal of life. And the romance couldn’t be more tepid. There isn’t a lot of chemistry between Mitchum’s Brady and Julie London’s Helen, so there isn’t a great deal of rooting interest to get them together as a couple. And Brady’s jumping the border after killing the man is a clear case of self defense with dozens of witnesses present to affirm it, so his running back to Mexico seems a more mechanical manipulation of the script rather than something that would make realistic sense for a man who wants to reclaim his American roots.
Robert Mitchum affects a slight Mexican accent and lilt to his voice during the movie, but it’s inconsistently applied. He’s certainly believable as a laconic loner and his fast draw is quite authentic, but there isn’t great enthusiasm on display here. Julie London gets second billing, but her role doesn’t really amount to much. She’s quite lovely in the movie but doesn’t display much rich emotion for Mitchum or Gary Merrill to play off of. Gary Merrill acts his gruff Army officer well enough though we don’t get enough scenes with him to understand him as anything other than a cold fish. A little more nuanced is Albert Dekker’s Texas Ranger. He’s earnest and offers one of the film’s best performances. Completely over the top is Jack Oakie in a couple of scenes as he plays a barroom loudmouth without restraint. Baseball legend “Satchel” Paige gets a couple of scenes in his first movie role as an army officer, but he seems completely uncomfortable in front of the camera saying his lines with stiffness and monotony.
The transfer has been framed at 1.66:1 and has been anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. Though the opening credit sequence is rather disheartening looking with pale, wan color, the rest of the film looks very nice with very good color saturation (reds and blues look especially rich) and accurate, believable flesh tones. While most of the photography is sharp and clear, there are occasional soft scenes. The grain structure of film has been well maintained. Black levels are only moderate, however, and there are some artifacts scattered throughout. There are some black scratches that show up on occasion, and some minor aliasing in the corduroy coat that Mitchum wears for much of the movie. There are also some dust specks here and there. The film has been divided into 10 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix is very erratic in quality. Though hiss has been well contained and is not ever a problem, there are moments of crackle and a few pops on the track later in the movie. Recording quality varies throughout with some outdoor dialogue scenes rather muffled or poorly miked so that dialogue isn’t always easy to understand. Alex North’s lovely score is well represented even if there isn’t a great amount of high fidelity in the sound design as presented on the disc.
There are no bonus features on this manufactured-on-demand disc.
2.5/5 (not an average)
The Wonderful Country is an unusual western with a few highlights but not enough acting or directing momentum to make it memorable. Still, the film looks better than one might expect, and Robert Mitchum fans will likely be glad to be able to obtain it.