I write this review of Duel at Diablo with a heavy heart, having just learned this morning that James Garner died yesterday at the age of 86. I knew that over the years he had a number of serious health issues. As he writes in his memoir, "I've had ulcers, diverticulitis, an aortic aneurysm, a quadruple bypass, and a hemorrhagic stroke." Still, the announcement of his death came as a shock, in no small part because I just watched Duel at Diablo last night. It is an exciting, violent western which benefits greatly from the pairing of Garner with Sidney Poitier.
Distributed By: Other
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 43 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-rayStandard Blu-ray Keep Case
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Release Date: 07/29/2014
Jess Remsberg (James Garner) is a civilian scout who is preoccupied with finding out who killed his Comanche wife. While crossing the desert he finds the body of a white man who had been tortured and killed by Apaches. He then spots a lone rider whose horse collapses in the heat just as two Apaches appear on the scene. Remsberg rescues the woman, Ellen Grange (Bibi Andersson), and takes her to Fort Creel to reunite her with her husband, Willard Grange (Dennis Weaver).When they arrive the townspeople turn out to gawk, and Willard Grange makes it clear that he is none too pleased to have his wife back. He callously tells Ellen, "My horse is dead and you're back. It should be the other way around." It turns out that Ellen had once been abducted by Apaches but she was safely returned. Then she took a horse and was, for some reason, attempting to return to the Apaches when Remsberg came upon her. Her husband believes that she should have killed herself before allowing herself to become an Apache's squaw.In the meantime Remsberg meets with Lieutenant Scotty McAllister (Bill Travers), who informs the scout that he has come into possession of his Comanche wife's scalp. Remsberg concludes that his wife was killed by a white man, and he has reason to believe that he can learn the identity of the killer at Fort Concho, the primary Army installation in the area. Lt. McAllister is about to leave for Fort Concho with ammunition wagons, and he persuades Remsberg to come along as his scout. Remsberg also meets up with Toller (Sidney Poitier), a former Army sergeant who has been rounding up and breaking wild horses to sell to the Cavalry.Back at Fort Creel, Lt. McAllister receives orders to leave for Fort Concho a day early because it is believed that the Apache chief Chata (John Hoyt) has crossed the border and may be in the vicinity. Willard Grange, who has a wagon full of supplies to deliver to Fort Concho, persuades McAllister's commanding officer to let him make the trip with the Cavalry. Toller also is compelled to come along because he has not yet broken all of the wild horses and he will not get paid for unbroken horses. Remsberg goes out to search for Chata and his warriors, and in the process he discovers that the Apaches have once again captured Ellen Grange (a somewhat jarring plot transition which is not explained). It turns out that the reason that Ellen earlier was attempting to return to the Apaches was to see her baby son, and Chata is the boy's grandfather. Chata's son has been killed by white men and Chata blames Ellen. He tells her that she can nurse her son until the body of the boy's father is found, at which time she will be buried alive with him.The expedition to Fort Concho takes a fateful turn when Lt. McAllister learns that Chata is nearby. McAllister decides to engage with Chata and hold up his advance until reinforcements can be summoned from Fort Concho, and several bloody battles ensue. In the meantime, Remsberg has not forgotten that his primary goal is to identify his wife's killer and avenge her death.Duel at Diablo was the first western in which Sidney Poitier appeared, and James Garner has said that Poitier had to learn to ride a horse for the film. Poitier had previously worked with director Ralph Nelson on Lilies of the Field, for which Poitier won an Academy Award. He is excellent as Toller, whose race surprisingly is a non-issue in the film. Poitier actually has very few scenes with James Garner. Once the Calvary departs from Fort Creel Remsberg spends most of his time scouting ahead of the troops, while Toller stays with them and breaks horses along the way. Bill Travers is suitably sturdy as Lt. McAllister, and Dennis Weaver is effective as the self-absorbed Willard Grange. Bibi Andersson, the Swedish actress who is best-known for her work with Ingmar Bergman, is believable and sympathetic as the outcast Ellen Grange.As for James Garner, his portrayal of Jess Remsberg is a bit of departure from the affable characters which marked most of his career. Here he is a man driven by a thirst for revenge, and apart from his empathy for Ellen Grange his personality is very unlike that of Bret Maverick.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
When it is good, the 1.66:1 1080p image (which employs the AVC codec) is very good, but there are a number of instances during which sharp, crisp shots transition to softness, which can be distracting. The print used here shows some signs of mild damage, but those are less noticeable than the occasional instances of softness. Otherwise, the color palette is quite appropriate, with reds and browns dominating the desert scenes, set against deep blue skies. Duel at Diablo was shot by cinematographer Charles F. Wheeler amidst spectacular surroundings in and around Johnson Canyon, Utah. Black levels are good and shadow detail in the night scenes is more than adequate.
Video Rating: 3/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio is only adequate. There are instances of muddiness which sometimes make it difficult to make out what is being said; a few times I had to engage the English subtitles in order to understand the dialogue. The score by Neil Hefti is excellent but should sound fuller than what comes across here.
Audio Rating: 2.5/5
The only extra on this Blu-ray disc is the film's theatrical trailer, which exhibits some damage. The trailer is a bit misleading because it suggests conflict between Remsberg and Toller which is actually just a single misunderstanding that is resolved early in the film.
Special Features Rating: 1/5
Duel at Diablo is an exciting, violent western which is not quite as compelling as it should be. The film raises issues of racism which are not fully developed or resolved. It appears that some cuts were made of scenes which may have provided more insight into the motivations of the Apaches. When asked if the Apaches will ever stay on the reservation, Remsberg simply responds, "Why should they?" Why, indeed.Although this Blu-ray could have and should have been better, fans of James Garner and Sidney Poitier will want to add it to their collections.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Richard Gallagher
Support HTF when you buy this title: