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Universal-Great job on Classic Western Round-Up (1 Viewer)

Jim Bur

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Universal has just released on DVD Classic Western Round-up Volumes 1 and 2. I have had an opportunity to view all the films in each volume. Universal deserves a pat on the back for having done a great job in the presentation of thse films. The transfers appear to be stunning. The picture quality is unsurpassed.

Each volume consists of 4 western films presented in one case on 2 separate discs. There are two films on each disc, however the films are all on the same side, so you have no potential for the kind of problems that sometimes occur on some DVD players when you have films on both sides of the disc. I would expect that these films will play flawlessly on any player. The 2 discs are also expertly placed in each case in a way to ensure against the possibility of stratching.

All of the 8 films on these 2 volumes are entertaining.

The highlight of the entire collection is "Canyon Passage" contained in Volume 1. Canyon Passage was brilliantly directed by Jacques Tourneur ("Out of the Past", "Stars In My Crown", "Cat People", "I Walked With A Zombie", "Night of the Demon", etc). It is based on a novel by one of the foremost western writers, Ernest Haycox, who also wrote the source material for John Ford's "Stagecoach" and for such other westerns as Union Pacific, Man In the Saddle, Bugles in the Afternoon, etc. Canyon Passage is a very intelligent and literate western with a feel of authenticity about it. It is also one of the greatest examples of technicolor you could ever hope to see, and the presentation on this DVD is visually striking. Canyon Passage also features some outstanding original songs by Hoagy Carmichal, which are effectively incorporated into the score. The acting is remarkably effective. Dana Andrews is as good in this film as he was the same year in The Best Years of Our Lives, in which Hoagy Carmichael also effectively co-starred. Ward Bond gives perhaps the best villanious performance of his career. Lloyd Bridges has never been better in a key supporting role. Andy Devine not only gives his usual great and amiable supporting peformance, his real life children also appear as his children in the movie. Although Brian Donlevy often played the villain, he does it in a very unique and atypcial fashion in this film. Susan Hayward is great as usual, and looks terrrific in technicolor. The film also imported one of England's most popular and beautiful actresses, Patricia Roc for a key role, and she is quite effective. All in all this is not only one of the greatest and underappreciated westerns of all time, it is one of the great films of the 1940's. I doubt you will see a better example of 1940's film making released on DVD this year. I'm actually glad to see it released in this kind of format, instead of on its own, because more people who were not previously aware of this film, will hopefully discover it by buying it as part of this collection.

Volume 1 also contains a strong Raoul Walsh western, "The Lawless Breed". Raoul Walsh has proved himself to be the greatest of all action directors ("They Died With Their Boots On", "Captain Horatio Hornblower", "White Heat", "The Roaring Twenties", 'The Bowery", "'They Drive By Night", "High Sierra", "Pursued", "Colorado Territory", "The Tall Men", "Gentleman Jim". etc),
and he doesn't disappoint here, though one might argue that Rock Hudson is miscast in the lead as John Wesley Hardin. Julie Adams is wonderful as usual, and another highlight is the dual performance of the great character actor, John McIntire. The picture quality on this DVD is superlative, which greatly adds to the enjoyment of this film.

Volume 1 also features the King Vidor directed epic western "The Texas Rangers", starring Fred McMurray, who does a solid job as usual. This film had been slated for Paramount's biggest star, Gary Cooper, so it has the big budget and high production values behind it. Its an above average western, though the script is not without its flaws. This is a black and white film. The picture quality on this DVD is outstanding, and they even throw in the old film trailer from 1936.

The other film on Volume 1, Kansas Raiders is an early Audie Murphy film, in which he is playing a young Jesse James. Once again the picture quality is outstanding. This film is from 1950. I personally prefer the films Audie Murphy did for Universal in the late 1950's such as "Seven Ways From Sundown" and "No Name on the Bullet", however this film in enjoyable. Hollywood routinely stretched the historical truth in its western filmaking, however they went way over the top in this film. If you don't mind overlooking those kind of flaws the film is fun.

I would also recommend Volume 2. The best film in that volume is Budd Boetticher's "The Man From the Alamo'. which is aided by an outstanding performance by Glenn Ford in the lead role (he always seems to do a good job). I think it is the best of Boetticher's westerns which don't feature Randolph Scott (i.e Seven Men From Now, The Tall T, Comanche Station, Ride Lonesome, etc.). The picture quality is outstanding, and there is a fine score form the old pro Frank Skinner.

I believe that Universal has in these two volumes set the standard for the presentation of classic western films on DVD. After seeng these two volumes my main regret is that Univeral doesn't have all that many more top notch unreleasd western films left in its library. Now that they have mastered the presentation, one wishes that they could have more top notch western films to present in this superlative fashion. They do have some good Joel Mcrea westerns from the early 1950's such as "Lone Hand", "Cattle Drive", "Saddle Tramp", etc, but outside of those, and a few others, their remaining supply is fairly thin. Maybe, Lions Gate and/or Paramount would be willing to sublicense the numerous classic Republic and other westerns in its library (i.e. "Ramrod", "Johnny Guitar", "Ride the Man Down", "Pursued, "Four Faces West", "South of St. Louis", "Angel and the Badman", etc to Universal so that these films can be at long last released in the proper fashion. Perhaps, Sony, which quit releasing westerns a couple of years ago, will license its remaining numerous unreleased classic Columbia westerns to Universal. If anything, Universal has at least shown these other companies how it can be done, and the proper way to do it.

c Jim Bur
 

Mike*HTF

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Thanks for that informed overview, Jim!
I've had my eye on this release and now you've convinced me to pick both up.
I hear a lot of Universal slamming on this board, but I've almost always been impressed by the quality of their transfers. Sounds like this pair is a winner, too!
 

John Hodson

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I agree Jim, apart from The Man From The Alamo; the transfer is, IMHO, okay, but it's actually bettered by Universal's UK R2 with better colour and contrast.

All the transfers are very good, some are top notch, but I found - by comparison - The Lawless Breed to be slightly disappointing after a quick run through; not quite as sharp and with some evidence of mis-registration.

I agree too that Universal has upped its game on the transfer front in the past two or three years; the black and white transfers, while not pristine, are also excellent, crisp and detailed with greys right across the scale.

A quick word for Universal's Clint Eastwood' Western Icon Collection which also boasts some truly excellent transfers that, like the Western Round-Ups, put a smile on my face.
 

JohnRa

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Thanks for the review, Jim. I love westerns and always hope for the release of more. These sets sound great and I will be ordering them tonight! I don't remember seeing any of these movies and I watched lots of westerns growing up.
 

[email protected]

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Maybe I didn't keep watching long enough, but the Eastwood Icon set is watchable but hardly impressive.

All three films looked grainy and flat. 'Once Upon a Time in the West' looked excellent, but these...
 

Robert Crawford

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I received my dvds today so I'll make sure that the Ford film is the first one I watch tomorrow. Also, I'm very happy to have all of these films on dvd especially Canyon Passage, California, The Man from the Alamo and the original The Texas Rangers/Streets of Laredo.




Crawdaddy
 

John Hodson

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I've never been afraid of grain and neither has Universal. I watched Joe Kidd all the way through last night and thought it was beautifully detailed; maybe I'm easily impressed, but impressed I was.
 

CineKarine

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Great review Jim - could not agree more. My own favorite is CALIFORNIA (46) - wonderful transfer and top quality western. Loved the whole collection. Kudos to Universal!

But Universal DOES have a LOT of fabulous westerns left in its archives. Definitely more than enough for several similar collections.

Off the top of my head:

DESTRY (54) with Mari Blanchard (in the former Dietrich role) and Audie Murphy

THE SPOILERS (56) with Jeff Chandler, Anne Baxter and Rory Calhoun

THE RAWHIDE YEARS (56) with Tony Curtis (when are his Universal films coming on DVD?) and Colleen Miller

HORIZONS WEST (52) - directed by Boetticher, starring Robert Ryan, Rock Hudson, Julie Adams.

QUANTEZ (57) with Fred MacMurray, Dorothy Malone and John Gavin

WYOMING MAIL (50) with Alexis Smith

TRAIL OF THE VIGILANTES (40) - parody western with Franchot Tone, Peggy Moran, Warren William

GUNSMOKE (53) with Audie Murphy, Susan Cabot

SECOND GREATEST SEX (55) musical western with Jeanne Crain, George Nader

GUN TOWN (46) fabulous film with Kirby Grant, Claire Carleton and Lyle Talbot

FRONTIER GAL (45) - one of my favorites ever with Yvonne de Carlo and Rod Cameron

All these films are prime examples of the Universal western and would be well worth having (if you are like me, you have read Gene Blottner's fabulous two books devoted to them). And that's not even counting the Paramount westerns Universal also owns!

:)
 

Jim Bur

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CineKarine: Thanks for your thought provoking post. Unfortunately, my education seems to be a bit lacking as I haven't read the books you referenced, or even heard of them. However, I have seen many of the films you've listed.

I really like the Yvonne DeCarlo-Rod Cameron teamings, especially the one you mentioned, Frontier Gal, and also River Lady.

Trail of the Vigilantes is a lot of fun, and Horizons West is solid. I like Gunsmoke , and I would also add to the list, other Audie Murphy westerns such as Ride Clear of Diablo and Seven Ways From Sundown.

If you're talking about The Spoilers, the version I would be interested in seeing, if it still exists, would be the original sound version from 1930 starring Gary Cooper.

If Universal does do another Classic Western Roundup volume, the one western above all others that I would recommend that they include would be the 1932 version of Law and Order starring Walter Huston and Harry Carey, which was scripted by John Huston. It is a great film and a landmark in the western genre. It is the first embodiment on film of the Wyatt Earp-Doc Holiday legend, though they are referred to the films by different names since it was based on a novel by W.R. Burnett (The Asphalt Jungle, High Sierra, etc) who in turn had based his characters on Earp and Holiday. Universal released the 1953 remake starring Ronald Reagan, however it pales in comparision to the original version.

I would also recommend that Universal conisder including the film Mississippi Gambler with Tyrone Power and Julia Adams. It's the best film in the riverboat gambler sub-genre and although it may not technically be a western, it's surely close enough to pass muster, and its such an outstanding film that I think it would substantially enhance both the quality and marketability of any future Classic Wesern Round Up volume.

Parmount didn't make that many westerns in the pre-1950 era (which are the films that Universal acquired), and many of the westerns that Paramount released during that era were Pop Sherman productions (and also the Zane Grey westerns) which I don't think Universal acquired the rights to when it obtained the pre-1950 Paramount library. Perhaps, the most interesting unreleased Paramount western from this era is North West Mounted Police, however that film is so long that it might not fit a two film per disc format, and it probably should be released on its own, like Universal is doing with the upcoming release of Unconquered.

If Universal decides to do a Classic Western Roundup volumes 3 and 4 in the future, for what its worth I would suggest that the 8 films they include be Law and Order (32 version), The Mississippi Gambler, Frontier Gal, Trail of the Vigilantes, and 2 Joel Mcrea westerns from the early 1950's (choose from among Lone Hand, Cattle Drive, Saddle Tramp or Black Horse Canyon), and 2 Audie Murphy westerns (choose from among Seven Days From Sundown, Gunsmoke, Ride Clear of Diablo, Walk the Proud Land, or Destry).

c Jim Bur
 

Bradley-E

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I was impressed by the Eastwood Western collection with High Plains Drifter, Joe Kidd and Two Mules for Sister Sara. So I will check this one out.
 

Charles H

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I hope they bring out THE VIRGINIAN (1946). It always looked good on VHS and on recent Western Channel showings and is available on an R2 dvd. They should also bring our the 1929 Gary Cooper version that made him a super star.
 

Jim Bur

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Charles: I'd love to see the 1929 version of The Virginian out on DVD, however I didn't think Universal had the rights to it. Didn't Paramount retain control of its pre-1930 films when the rest of the pre-1950's films were sold to MCA in the late 1950's? Whoever has the rights to that film should release it on DVD, as it is a landmark film.
 

John Hodson

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The UK R2 of the '46 version is a very nice transfer, but I'm almost certain the title sequence and the title music are not from the original film - it just looks and sounds so, well, wrong. I'm quite puzzled by it.
 

Robert Crawford

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I watched The Man from the Alamo and Canyon Passage yesterday and have no real complaints about the video presentation. Though, in a couple of scenes in Canyon Passage, the color scheme looked off to me with too much red. My goal is to watch all eight films in the next three days or so.




Crawdaddy
 

Jim_K

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Canyon Passage turned out to be a pretty solid Western which was refreshing as for a while I was starting to think I'd seen every classic western really worth watching. PQ was decent for a 60 year old technicolor film on SD.

Wasn't impressed with The Lawless Breed, The Texas Rangers and Kansas Raiders which are pretty much run of the mill IMO.

Passing on the Eastwood set as I'm hoping Universal comes through with an HD-DVD version of High Plains Drifter in the near future.
 

Danny Burk

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Universal does own the pre-1930 sound Paramount films; it's the silents that are still (unfortunately) owned by Paramount, as they weren't included in the buyout. With one exception: the 1929 FOUR FEATHERS, which is a silent but slipped into the deal by mistake because it includes a synchronized musical score. It's a terrific film, BTW, and I wish Universal would do it justice!

The 1930 SPOILERS does exist; UCLA has a very nice 35mm print, which I saw many years ago at a film convention. It's never been available due to a rights problem, although I don't know the details. Since the 1942 version was made by Universal, it seems that they'd have been the company who bought out Paramount's version at that time, although the latter was never included in the MCA TV print package that does include most of the other Paramount talkies through 1949.
 

Jim Bur

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Danny: Thanks for the precise information.

It appears that the 1929 version of The Virginian was issued on home video in 1989-the back of the video box says MCA Home Video distributed by KVC Home Video (Karles Video Communications, Inc.), which confirms your info that MCA/Universal received the 1929 version. Surely, this film is long overdue for a DVD release.

Great to hear that a nice print exists of the 1930 version of The Spoilers, though its frustrating to hear of its non-availablity. That was a major film in the early career of one of Hollywood's foremost stars, Gary Cooper, so it should at least be made available for the general public to see it in some reasonably accessible format. Perhaps, someone who has direct contacts with Turner Classic Movies should suggest their trying to obtain rights to this film so they can show it as a special presentation on the their channel, as they recently did with the 6 RKO films whose rights were held by Meriam Cooper's estate.

c Jim Bur
 

Bert Greene

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Oh, yeah... "Law and Order" (1932). Hadn't thought about that one in a while. But, it's a knockout of a film. I hope it makes it way to dvd soon. It would be great if Universal kept on with this little franchise series. Didn't know the problems surrounding the 1930 version of "The Spoilers," but I always wondered why it never popped up as part of that MCA package of oldies (like "Only the Brave" and some other early talkie Cooper items). Speaking of early Paramount westerns, I've also always liked "Gun Smoke" (1931) with Richard Arlen. Hardly a classic, but a lot of fun; I tend to enjoy those odd films that serve up the cowboys versus gangsters theme.
 

WadeM

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Agreed! I'm glad someone else mentioned that movie first besides me! Underrrated in my opinion. I wish they could have done it as a double feature when they released Destry Rides Again. (yeah, I also want the other movies too that you mentioned)

I think Universal's been doing very well with their classics over the past few months. They also released the "Pirates of the Golden Age" collection on the same day, even though I haven't watched the movies yet, but I'm definitely impressed with Universal lately!
 

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