THE LAST WAGON Studio: 20th Century Fox Film Year: 1956 Film Length: 98 minutes Genre: Western Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 widescreen 1.33:1 pan & scan Colour/B&W: Colour Audio: English 4.0 Surround French 2.0 stereo Spanish 2.0 stereo Subtitles: English & Spanish Film Rating: Release Date: May 23, 2006. Film Rating: / Starring: Richard Widmark (Comanche Todd), Felicia Farr (Jenny), Susan Kohner (Jolie Normand), Tommy Rettig (Billy) Written by: Gwen Bagni (story), James Edward Grant (screenplay) Directed by: Delmer Daves May 23rd was a big day for Fox releases. Although it has come and gone there are now many great DVDs now available from 20th Century Fox. Just in time for Father’s Day, the studio has remastered some classics as well as opened the vault to release titles previously unavailable on DVD. These Western and War Classics are sure to be a hit with many since quite a few of these have been on our DVD waiting list for some time. One title I’ve picked from the batch is The Last Wagon not only because the film looked interesting but because I’m a Widmark fan too. I wasn’t disappointed with this release either because care seemed to have been put into it. All titles have been released in their original aspect ratios and come with some special features too. These other western and war titles are 100 Rifles, Back Door To Hell, Culpepper Cattle Company, Decision Before Dawn, Guns at Batsai, Immortal Sergeant, Proud Ones, These Thousand Hills, Yellow Sky and You’re in the Navy Now; and these are just a fraction of other great films by Fox released this same day. The Last Wagon is a gritty western starring Richard Widmark as Comanche Todd. Adopted by the Comanche Indians and far removed from the white man’s world, he ends up with a death sentence after killing some white men. He has his reasons and he doesn’t regret it either. Dragged by a horse by the sheriff who catches him, he’s eventually tied to a wagon train while the sheriff takes a day’s rest. Since the train has many women and children the people fear their safety to have a murderer tied to their train. But as fortune has it, fortunes are reversed. “He'll be safe. The first time he don't look safe, he'll get dead.” - Sheriff Bull Harper Overnight, Apaches attack the wagon and kill everyone except for a small group of teenagers who were out swimming in the night. Comanche Todd survived the incident and now has freedom. He could run for his life but he chooses to stay with the teenagers and help them to travel through the canyon of death where Apache Indians will kill anyone there including him. Since he grew up with the Comanche he has better skills than these teens to survive this hostile land. I found this film to be entertaining; the dialogue is acceptably written and its presentation is good so I felt like a picked a good title to watch out of this batch. There wasn’t a dull moment in the film, but I couldn’t help but to laugh at how similarly villains are portrayed in films over the years. The Apache Indians are hollow characters and deliver fear to the characters. They sort of remind me of how Russian villains during the Cold War time era and the Asian villains of today are portrayed. In some films, the villains of today have some sort of story, but in The Last Wagon the Apache Indians are perceived as ruthless killers and not much more (even though they have their reasons to kill like Comanche Todd did). The Comanche Indians are perceived in a better light, but the characters in the story are ignorant in their views of these people and without a doubt the audience is probably in the dark too. It definitely shows the negative mentality of certain people about Indians living on American soil. VIDEO QUALITY / The image is very good and better than what I was expecting. While it still has a dated look, the colours in the film look remarkably good. The blue sky looks so vividly blue it contrasts nicely with the dry, brown and barren landscape of the U.S. West. The first quarter of the film looks excellent; following that the film doesn’t sparkle as much but still looks good. There tends to be a little more film grain and print artefacts as the film’s running time goes on. None of this really distracts from this 2.35:1 picture. Compression artefacts are sometimes apparent giving objects in the film a “dragging” appearance. This is mostly noticed in the vegetation on screen. Edge enhancement doesn’t appear to be a problem. The 1.33:1 pan and scan version can be found on the other side of the flip disc. It seems to be taken from the same source as the new widescreen presentation. AUDIO QUALITY / The DVD’s jacket is incorrectly labelled as having only an English 2.0 stereo option. This is not true; the only English soundtrack available is the original 4.0 presentation. Three channels are delivering audio across the front and there is a mono surround channel. First I will say that the mono surround is low in volume and only provides a hint of surround envelopment. While some may claim this has little effect on the audio I disagree. It doesn’t sound loud and discrete from the other channels like with many modern-day soundtracks, but I challenge you to turn your surround amplifiers off (if you can) during a moment in the film with surround and you will feel the soundstage shift more to the front. I chose the word “feel” because it’s more of a feeling rather than an obvious audible shift in sound. The music score is wonderfully recorded on this film and the DVD delivers it the best it can using Dolby Digital. The soundtrack was the first element that stood out to me because the music recording is obviously much further ahead than effects and dialogue (it’s also something that still holds true today). Dialogue can sound a little distorted when it is recorded at a louder volume and sound effects can sound compressed. Still, for an older recording I find it very acceptable and pleasing to listen to. SPECIAL FEATURES / You will find 12 production stills, 17 posters and one sheets and 19 behind the scenes stills. The film’s theatrical trailer is also included in its native 2.35:1 ratio and it is also enhanced for widescreen televisions. You will also find Fox Flix theatrical trailers for some of the other titles released on May 23rd, They are of The Proud Ones, 100 Rifles and Two Flags West. IN THE END… I highly recommend this western film because it is what it is: an American western – and a damn good one too. It’s not a masterpiece or one that will go down in the history books, but it’s a piece of western cinema of this era that can be appreciated by all film viewers. Michael Osadciw May 29, 2006.