DVD Review HTF REVIEW: The Last Wagon

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Michael Osadciw, May 29, 2006.

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  1. Michael Osadciw

    Michael Osadciw Screenwriter

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    [​IMG]

    THE LAST WAGON


    [​IMG]
    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 [​IMG] [​IMG] 4.0 Surround

    French [​IMG] [​IMG] 2.0 stereo

    Spanish [​IMG] [​IMG] 2.0 stereo


    Subtitles: English & Spanish
    Film Rating: [​IMG]


    [​IMG] [​IMG]






    Release Date: May 23, 2006.


    Film Rating: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    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.


    [​IMG]VIDEO QUALITY [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    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.


    [​IMG]AUDIO QUALITY [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    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.


    [​IMG]SPECIAL FEATURES [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    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.
     
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Michael,
    Good review, but I don't share your premise about how Indians were portrayed in the film. The Apaches were killing whites for a reason which Commanche Todd mentioned when he returned back to the young survivors. Also, the way Todd talked about his life with the Indians was very positive towards them. Furthermore, the sister who was half-Indian showed she was a better person than her all-white half-sister.





    Crawdaddy
     
  3. Michael Osadciw

    Michael Osadciw Screenwriter

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    Robert, thanks for the feedback. You are right that the Comanche were talked about in good character, but they never were in the film. I was talking about the Apache who were the villians in this film. As you said, they had a reason for killing whites, but I felt that there was little explanation of it - or care to really explain it (sympathize for their cause). ...I, on the other hand, really sympathize...and I'm not going there... [​IMG]

    I sort of did a quick revisement in the review just to make myself a bit clearer...

    Mike
     
  4. seanOhara

    seanOhara Supporting Actor

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    This is a very fun film, with one of Widmark's best non-noir performances, but the mentality of the script (which was co-written by James Edward Grant, the Duke's favorite writer) is really jarring at times. And it's not just Comanche Todd's speech about how great smoking is. One of the characters is a shrewish girl whose main purpose in the film is to be so annoying that the audience cheers any time someone slaps her -- which happens three times in the movie, and the last time its not so much a slap as Widmark punching her in the face. And then at the end of the movie, she says he taught her how to be a grown up!
     
  5. Simon Howson

    Simon Howson Screenwriter

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    It is interesting you qualify your statement as for non-noir films. Widmark to me seems much more credible in noirs rather than Westerns. I assume at the time he was popular in all genres, but there is something about his persona that for me doesn't make him as impressive an actor in Westerns.

    I've got this film on pre-order and can't wait to check it out. Delmer Daves also directed Jubal in 1956, which I absolutely love.
     
  6. Randy Korstick

    Randy Korstick Producer

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    I like Richard Widmark alot and always enjoy his performances but I do not care for noir's so I have not seen many of his. So I have to disagree as I enjoy him alot in his Westerns and other non-noir films.
     
  7. Simon Howson

    Simon Howson Screenwriter

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    I finally got around to seeing The Last Wagon, hence I'm reviving this thread.

    This is the best Widmark performance I have seen in a Western, he is outstanding. I absolutely loved the film, and am amazed that Delmer Daves was able to put out this and another brilliant Western Jubal in the same year! Some film makers these days would be lucky to put out two films of that quality in their entire career.

    I also watched The Proud Ones which was a very good film as well, but a completely different type of Western. It is the best Robert Webb film I've seen. Beneath the 12-Mile Reef, Love Me Tender, and Pirates of Tortuga are reasonable films, but to me are B rather than A pictures. I mean Love Me Tender is even black and white, even though it has Presley. Did some accountant say "if you pay Presley that much we can't afford colour!" [​IMG]

    One interesting stylistic difference of these two films is that although they are both CinemaScope, The Last Wagon is cut about twice as fast, compared to The Proud Ones, even though they were most likely made with the same B&L CinemaScope lenses, at the same studio, and in the same year.

    As these early 'Scope films are reissued on DVD it is becoming more evident that film makers were able to cut CinemaScope as fast as the academy format, even though for a long time everyone assumed that 'Scope directly resulted in less cutting (The Proud Ones is cut slow at the start, but gets significantly faster as the film goes on). It is cool to see how different film makers applied 'Scope to acheive different aesthetic outcomes.
     

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