Fritz Lang captures the spirit and tone of the Old West just about as well as any then-contemporary American director in Western Union, an entertaining 1941 western dealing with the problems facing the men responsible for stringing the first transcontinental telegraph line. With a first-rate cast and some beautiful location photography, the film draws the viewer in easily and manages a few surprises along the way during its relatively brief 95-minute running time.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 35 Min.
Package Includes: DVDAmray case
Disc Type: DVD-R
Release Date: 06/13/2013
After escaping capture for a bank job, Vance Shaw (Randolph Scott) leaves his outfit and takes a legitimate job with Western Union based in Omaha which is in the midst of extending its lines to Salt Lake City in 1861. Shaw is hired on as a scout since he can communicate with the Indians who are rather hostile about the “singing wires” crossing their territory. Head of operations Edward Creighton (Dean Jagger) also hires on as a surveyor Harvard-educated Richard Blake (Robert Young). Both Blake and Shaw have a friendly rivalry for the hand of Creighton’s sister Sue (Virginia Gilmore), but their attention is continually pulled away by the marauding Indians and by a group of renegade Confederates led by Jack Slade (Barton MacLane). Yes, it’s Shaw’s old gang now rustling cattle and horses disguising themselves as Indians and which Shaw is in a quandary about how to deal with them.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Robert Carson’s screenplay takes its time getting to the adventure stuff. It’s almost a half hour of plot exposition and character building before we get to the first action, but it’s time well spent as we get closer to each of the men who will play a major part in the unfolding story. There is more effort extended on the love triangle than it’s worth since it’s basically stopped and dropped in later reels, but even those scenes offer some good character discovery especially for the audience to get to know and like Shaw despite his shady past. Later moments including an Indian attack (which isn’t what it seems), an Indian negotiation, a climactic fire sequence, and the final shootout contain vestiges of originality that put this a cut above many westerns being made at the same time, and Fritz Lang’s direction keeps things moving at a steady clip and keeps the audience viscerally connected to the action at all times.
By 1941 Randolph Scott was already fully comfortable in the western genre, first in a series of B westerns based on Zane Grey tales made in the early 1930s and later moving to A pictures, and he fits into Western Union like a well worn saddle. He manages more depth of feeling than one might expect from him and is clearly the star of the movie despite taking second billing to Robert Young. Young plays the dude with more western skills than the usual tenderfoot with just the right amount of vinegar (though costume designer Travis Banton does put him in one of the silliest western outfits this side of Bob Hope in The Paleface). Dean Jagger is compelling, too, as the overseer of the telegraph project while Barton MacLane does his usual villainy with the expected oily expertise. John Carradine makes a welcome sight as the doctor, and Slim Summerville as the frightened cook is continually used for comic relief (sometimes inappropriately as in the first Indian raid which features his foolishness while people are getting murdered). Virginia Gilmore makes for a rather colorless love interest.
The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Despite having to use Eastmancolor elements instead of the original three-strip Technicolor masters, the film features surprisingly strong color especially with blues and reds (greens are a bit dull). Saturation levels and richness of hues don’t begin to approach what Technicolor at the time was capable of, but it’s an acceptable alternative, and color remains consistent throughout with decent skin tone renderings. There are about half a dozen long shots where color registration was slightly off when the Eastmancolor masters were made, so they are problematic, but unlike many of the other Technicolor films in Fox’s MOD program, this film doesn’t suffer from a deficit of brightness or any dirt or other age-related artifacts. Clearly work has been done on this to produce as sparkling a transfer as the film is capable of generating in standard definition. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so this film contains 10 chapters.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. As usual, the volume level of the disc has been encoded at excessive levels so a manual adjustment by the user will be necessary to produce a more acceptable sound level. Dialogue is always completely discernible and mixes well with David Buttolph’s jaunty score and the numerous sound effects. Hiss and other age-related artifacts are not a problem with this title.
Audio Rating: 4/5
There are no bonus features with this title, not even a trailer.
Special Features Rating: 0/5
Western Union ranks high among the titles in the Fox Cinema Archives program. The movie is very entertaining, and the audio and video transfer quality of this MOD disc does the original showmanship proud. Recommended!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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