Colt .45: The Complete Series Blu-ray Review

4.5 Stars The long-unavailable western series makes its Blu-ray debut in a stunning new restoration from Warner Archive.
Colt .45: The Complete Series Review

Colt .45 has been somewhat of a holy grail title for television on disc enthusiasts. While all manor of classic shows came into print during the golden age of DVD, this title remained elusive, no longer even in syndication. After decades of unavailability, a new 4K-sourced restoration from Warner Archive has resulted in a new Blu-ray release, allowing this long-out-of-view show to be freshly appraised.

Colt .45 (1957–1960)
Released: 18 Oct 1957
Rated: N/A
Runtime: 30 min
Director: N/A
Genre: Western
Cast: Wayde Preston, Kenneth MacDonald, Donald May
Writer(s): N/A
Plot: Christopher Colt was apparently a gun salesman, but was, in fact, a government Agent tracking down notorious bad guys. His cousin Sam took the lead when the studio had contract disputes with the original star.
IMDB rating: 8.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 27 Hr. 30 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Three keepcases housed in a cardboard box
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 03/12/2024
MSRP: $79.95

The Production: 4/5

Colt .45 has been somewhat of a holy grail title for television on disc enthusiasts. While all manor of classic shows came into print during the golden age of DVD, this title remained elusive, no longer even in syndication. After decades of unavailability, a new 4K-sourced restoration from Warner Archive has resulted in a new Blu-ray release, allowing this long-out-of-view show to be freshly appraised.

Over the course of three seasons, including a retooling in the third season to swap one main character for another, Colt .45 provided a total of 67 half-hour episodes that adhere pretty closely to a tried-and-true formula. In the first two seasons, Christopher Colt (played by Wayde Preston) travels from town to town across the Old West, disguising himself as a gun salesman to obscure his actual identity as an undercover agent sent to dispatch law and order in places lacking it. When the series begins, it seems as though most episodes will be as simple as Colt arriving in a new town, first trying to use peaceful means to settle matters, but ultimately being compelled to use his skill as a quick draw to neutralize the threat. But as the series gets underway, there starts to be a greater variety of situations that Colt is drawn into, with resolutions that involve more than just shooting. The show attempted to show a little more intelligence regarding its use of violence than the average production, with the first episode beginning with a prescient exchange debating whether guns kill people or whether people kill people. (To the pilot’s credit, it rejects the sloganeering in favor of a more nuanced exploration of those themes.)

The show might not be as deeply felt as Have Gun-Will Travel, arguably the pinnacle of this type of western, but there’s a bit more going on here than a cursory glance might suggest. Sometimes the villains and supporting characters would be entirely fictional creations, while other times they were drawn from history. The show had the opportunity to cover a lot of different ground given its format, and it took advantage of those opportunities. Notable guests included up-and-coming future stars like Charles Bronson, Angie Dickinson, Leonard Nimoy and Adam West, as well as television stalwarts like Lyle Talbot and Robert Conrad, and even baseball legend Sandy Koufax.

After a second season truncated due to issues with leading man Preston, the final season saw Donald May joining the cast mid-year as Sam Colt, Jr., a cousin of Preston’s character. May is a square-jawed leading man more than capable of carrying the show, and the show’s format allowed for the switch without needing to provide a lengthy explanation. (Accounts vary as to why Preston was difficult to work with, though one frequently cited explanation was that Preston was reluctant to perform difficult stunts better suited for a professional stuntman.) Though the switch from Preston to May stabilized the production process, it did little to reverse a decline in ratings, and the show exited the airwaves after the conclusion of the the third season without much fanfare. But before the show wrapped up, it did bring Preston back in a more limited capacity, which allowed for some enjoyable on-screen camaraderie between Preston and May. (It was even retitled as The Colt Cousins for UK audiences.)

While Colt .45 doesn’t quite excel to the heights of the gold standards of that period, it is a great example of television craftsmanship of its era. At his best, Preston’s Colt presents a harder edge but is given quiet moments to hinting at a wider and gentler range that the show might have benefitted from including more of. The variety of backlot sets and locations available to the production give it an appropriately convincing atmosphere, and the occasional use of stock footage enhances rather than detracts from the show. Looking back at this 1957-1960 production from today’s perspective makes one appreciate the virtues of episodic storytelling, with easily identifiable heroes and villains and stories that tell a complete beginning, middle and ending in under thirty minutes. If there is a shortcoming here, it’s that episodic television lives or dies on the charisma of its leading player(s) and the characters they fold their personas into, and as adequate as Preston and May are, they lack the intangibles that make the best leading men timeless. (Not everyone can be Paladin, I suppose.) A more compelling performance and a more deeply drawn lead character could have elevated the show beyond what it is, but what is here should be more than enough to anyone looking for a little bit of escapism, one half hour at a time.

Ultimately, assigning a numerical rating to any review is often the hardest part of the assignment. While this show doesn’t quite transcend its era in a way evergreens like I Love Lucy or The Twilight Zone have, fans of classic 1950s-era television shows, particularly westerns, can safely add at least half a star, if not a full one, to this review.

The discs are split between three keepcases (one for each season), housed in a nice cardboard box. Season one contains four discs, season two is on two discs, and season three is again four discs. Warner Archive is to be commended for clearly labeling each disc’s episode titles and original airdates on the back of each season’s case.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

Sourced from brand-new 4K scans of the original camera negative, Colt .45 is presented in its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and the presentation is nothing short of breathtaking. This release instantly becomes the best looking western show from the golden age of television ever presented on disc. The video is pristine, with nary a blemish or age-related defect in sight, also free of any signs of any untoward digital manipulation. The black and white photography is crisp and rock steady, with good detail all around that serves to reinforce the atmosphere of the series rather than revealing the tricks behind its creation. While the show’s aesthetic choices tend to be more paint-by-numbers than innovative (as one would reasonably expect from a weekly show filmed on the lot), watching these new transfers is like stepping through a window into television history. If only every 1950s-era TV show looked half as good today as this one does.

Audio: 5/5

Presented via the lossless DTS-HD MA codec, the original monaural soundtrack is beautifully reproduced here, every part the equal of the visual presentation. Dialogue is always clear and easily intelligible, and the sound effects and music cues and end title song all sound wonderfully rich and detailed without overwhelming the track. There is not even a hint of age-related wear-and-tear, but neither is there any sign of untoward digital manipulation.

Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.

Special Features: 0/5

It’s slightly disappointing that no special features were included in this release, but not unexpected given that Warner Archive rarely creates new bonus material. Still, it does seem like a missed opportunity not to have a short featurette on the remastering of a show that’s been out of circulation for decades, and a commentary on an episode or two could have offered insight on the show’s troubled production. Even if Warner Archive was unable to create new bonus material, it’s too bad that some existing tie-ins weren’t included.  (The Christopher Colt character crossed over onto Warner’s Sugarfoot series, and Preston made a notable guest appearance on the studio’s series Maverick; these also would have been worth considering for inclusion in this set.)

Overall: 4.5/5

Warner Archive’s surprise venture in classic television on Blu-ray has yielded what is arguably the best technical presentation ever for a 1950s-era show on home video. While Colt .45 itself doesn’t break new ground, it has long been desired by fans of classic westerns due to decades of unavailability, and the joys of seeing these half hours of escapism presented so well more than makes up for the show’s more formulaic aspects. Setting a new standard for the technical presentation of a 1950s show on disc, one can only hope that this is the first of many such releases from Warner Archive.

 

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Adam Lenhardt

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Glad to hear this show is well-presented for those who are fans of it.

I don't know what it says about my upbringing, but I will never not think of this when I see mention of the show:
colt45pic1_1024x1024.png
 

Robert Harris

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Nothing better than coming off of properly vaulted OCNs. Beautifully rendered to perfection. It’s interesting that WB continued producing in black & white, while Bonanza was using color in 1959. I spend a day at WB during the summer of 1961. In production for TV was 77 Sunset Strip, The Roaring 20s, Hawaiian Eye et al - all black & white.
 

compson

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Nothing better than coming off of properly vaulted OCNs. Beautifully rendered to perfection. It’s interesting that WB continued producing in black & white, while Bonanza was using color in 1959. I spend a day at WB during the summer of 1961. In production for TV was 77 Sunset Strip, The Roaring 20s, Hawaiian Eye et al - all black & white.
Warner’s shows were on ABC, which didn’t air anything in color until the Fall of 1962. Bonanza was on NBC, which was part of RCA, which wanted to sell color televisions.
 

B-ROLL

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Warner’s shows were on ABC, which didn’t air anything in color until the Fall of 1962. Bonanza was on NBC, which was part of RCA, which wanted to sell color televisions.
As it was not known which network would run the show...of the the Pilot episodes were often shot in color even though though the show might eventually be run in B&W. Both Lost in Space and The Munsters pilots were shot in color.
 

ScottRE

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As it was not known which network would run the show...of the the Pilot episodes were often shot in color even though though the show might eventually be run in B&W. Both Lost in Space and The Munsters pilots were shot in color.
The Lost in Space pilot only shot the major effects footage in color - and they knew they were going to be a CBS series. The crash, the Cyclops, Chariot and jet pack scenes were in color as they knew ahead of time it would not be a color series that first year. However, Irwin Allen was thinking of banking these expensive shots as stock footage for use in later color seasons. Everything in space and with the main cast was in black and white for the pilot.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea's pilot was in color, but broadcast with the rest of the first season in black and white. :)
 

Josh Steinberg

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Wonderful review, Josh! Now more than ever, I want to get this series. It sounds like a fine way to spend a series of half hours. And how often does a show like this hit blu ray?!

If for nothing else, you'll appreciate Leonard Nimoy's appearance as the heel in the season two finale.
 

actionsub

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Nothing better than coming off of properly vaulted OCNs. Beautifully rendered to perfection. It’s interesting that WB continued producing in black & white, while Bonanza was using color in 1959. I spend a day at WB during the summer of 1961. In production for TV was 77 Sunset Strip, The Roaring 20s, Hawaiian Eye et al - all black & white.
Apples and oranges.
Bonanza was specifically commissioned in color by NBC's parent company to encourage people to buy new color TV's.
Those WB shows, on the other hand, all aired on ABC which had the stature among networks then that something like ION has today. It was 1964 until WBTV could place a series on another network's prime time schedule. In most markets, ABC programming was carried as secondary affiliation by the local NBC or CBS station. As networks share part of the cost of programming, the struggling #3 network really couldn't afford to subsidize color TV in the early 60s.
 

B-ROLL

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Apples and oranges.
Bonanza was specifically commissioned in color by NBC's parent company to encourage people to buy new color TV's.
Those WB shows, on the other hand, all aired on ABC which had the stature among networks then that something like ION has today. It was 1964 until WBTV could place a series on another network's prime time schedule. In most markets, ABC programming was carried as secondary affiliation by the local NBC or CBS station. As networks share part of the cost of programming, the struggling #3 network really couldn't afford to subsidize color TV in the early 60s.
Also my understanding is b&W film was cheaper to process and they would have needed to provide two complete prints to the network a 35mnm and 16mm backup which were run simultaneously - The 35mm was the primary. In case the film broke, they would switch to the 16mm print to allow the telecine operator to reload the 35mm projector with the remainder of the 35mm.

1712090345759.png
 

Kevin Antonio (Kev)

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Apples and oranges.
Bonanza was specifically commissioned in color by NBC's parent company to encourage people to buy new color TV's.
Those WB shows, on the other hand, all aired on ABC which had the stature among networks then that something like ION has today. It was 1964 until WBTV could place a series on another network's prime time schedule. In most markets, ABC programming was carried as secondary affiliation by the local NBC or CBS station. As networks share part of the cost of programming, the struggling #3 network really couldn't afford to subsidize color TV in the early 60s.
I do wonder if the use of stock footage played a part in it as well. All of the WB westerns used extensive stock footage in many episodes to cut cost and save time. Had they shot in color they couldn't use the stock footage Warners had from prior films.
 

Bob Gu

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In 1957-61, the studios were still touting spectacular color as something you would only see in theatrical movies.

They probably didn't think about color for future-proofing TV shows for reruns.

In 1957 U.S. households that had a B&W TV was about 75%. Even by 1961, it probably was less than 20% for color sets in homes.

It's interesting that some of the smaller independents went for color in the 1950s. Russell Hayden's "Cowboy G-Men" and "Judge Roy Bean". Some of the color production money came from sponsors. Kellogg's Cereal for "The Adventures of Superman" and "Wild Bill Hickok". Quaker Oats for "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon" and the last season of "The Lone Ranger". (By the way GRIT is showing the newly remastered, but edited, "Lone Ranger" episodes. The color episodes look spectacular. They reinstated the full opening on most episodes. The full opening is not on any of the official DVD releases.)

Stocks shots I've spotted in COLT.45. The riverboat footage used in two episodes, I guess is from "The Adventures of Mark Twain", along with street scenes from "Jezebel" The stagecoach crash in the Leonard Nimoy episode is from "Barracade". Indian attack scene with Michael Ansara from "The Lone Ranger"-1956 movie. Cave in sequence from "Carson City" with George Cleveland and Mickey Simpson. Simpson also has a role in the actual COLT.45 episode, to match the stock footage.

The craziest one is in the COLT.45 episode "Chain of Command". They use footage of Clint Walker from a "Cheyenne" episode which used footage from the Guy Madison feature, "The Command". Wayde Preston wears a "Cheyenne" hat to match things up.
 
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