By 1947, Cecil B. DeMille was long established as one of the most premier directors and master showmen in Hollywood. While he’s best known today for his biblical epics – which include both the 1923 and 1956 versions of The Ten Commandments and Samson and Delilah (1949) – he also looked to our nation’s history for movie material; one of those movies was Unconquered, a look at 18th Century pre-Revolutionary War America. Previously released on DVD by Universal, Kino his licensed the movie for its Blu-ray debut.
The Production: 3.5/5
After being convicted of murder in 1763 England, Abby Hale (Paulette Goddard) is sent to the Colonies as an indentured servant after accepting the “King’s Mercy” in lieu of a date with the hangman. Upon arriving, she is first sold to Virginia Regiment Captain Christopher Holden (Gary Cooper) in an impromptu auction before she’s taken by unscrupulous trader Martin Garth (Howard Da Silva) due to him bribing the slave dealer. Eventually, the three cross paths and ignite a love triangle that’s soon dwarfed by the threat of a Indian tribe war, led by Pontiac and threatening the settlers in and around Fort Pitt. For Holden and Garth, only one will be left at the end to claim Abby…
For his last movie that has connections to American History prior to the 20th Century, Cecil B. DeMille infused Unconquered with his usual grand showmanship. Bathed in luscious Technicolor, the 18th Century western frontier of the American Colonies come to life under Ray Rennahan’s cinematography (he made a career out of being a Technicolor specialist) and it extends to the spectacular production values as well; when Hans Dreier’s recreated sets weren’t being used, DeMille utilized the Pennsylvania countryside as well as the Snake River in Idaho for great effect – the latter for a rousing river chase sequence involving Holden, Abby and pursuing Indians. However, the major fault with the film lies in two areas: that the script (penned by Charles Bennett, Fredric Frank and Jesse Lasky Jr.) is filled with many clichés (even by the standard of a typical DeMille production) about the Indians on the western frontier – despite the fact the director had paid two research experts to gain a historical sense of that time – and that the film itself feels overlong (also even by DeMille standards). Despite that, Unconquered is still a solid entertainment in DeMille’s inimitable and sensationalistic style; essentially, it’s a lower tier effort but still watchable.
For his fourth and final collaboration with DeMille, Gary Cooper brought his usual understated and strong yet silent style to the part of Captain Holden; this was also his last film for Paramount Pictures after spending much of the last 20 years with the studio. Paulette Goddard is a little more subdued here as Abby, compared to her previous DeMille collaboration in Reap the Wild Wind (1942); this was also the last time she would work with the director – when she refused to stand in the scene where fireballs are thrown at Fort Pitt, this caused a falling out in which DeMille refused to speak to Goddard for years afterward. With a clear air of arrogance, Howard Da Silva easily commands attention in every scene he’s in as the two-faced Martin Garth; despite being later blacklisted during the 1950’s, he’s better known today for portraying Benjamin Franklin on stage and in the 1972 film of the Sherman Edwards musical 1776. Notable names and faces in the cast of thousands include Boris Karloff as the Seneca chief Guyasuta, Cecil Kellaway as fellow indentured servant Jeremy Love, Mike Mazurki as the brutal Bone, Porter Hall as the crooked slave dealer Leach, Ward Bond as Holden’s friend John Fraser, C. Aubrey Smith as the Lord Chief Justice in Britain, Katherine DeMille as Garth’s Indian wife, Richard Gaines as George Washington, Alan Napier as colonial governor Sir William Johnson, Gavin Muir as the lieutenant of the Black Watch, Virginia Grey as Holden’s former fiancée, Lloyd Bridges as Lt. Hutchins, Victor Varconi as Fort Pitt Captain Simeon Ecuyer, and an uncredited Robert Warwick as Pontiac.
3D Rating: NA
The movie is presented in its original 1:37:1 aspect ratio for this release. Film grain is organic, with fine details rendered faithfully as well as the Technicolor palette; there’s little to no issues like scratches, dirt and tears present here. This Blu-ray release – which really captures the movie in all its three strip Technicolor glory – likely represents the best the movie will ever look on home video and easily surpasses the previous DVD release.
The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. The sound mix, dialogue and Victor Young’s score are each given faithful representations with strength and clarity; there’s nearly no instances of crackling, hissing or distortion present. The movie has likely been given its best sounding home video incarnation, also another improvement on the previous DVD release.
Special Features: 3/5
Commentary by film critic Nick Pinkerton – Recorded for this release, Pinkerton not only shares some of the background on the cast and crew, but also a few anacronisms between the plot and history.
Theatrical Trailer (2:41)
Bonus KLSC Trailers – The Plainsman, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, Desire, The General Died at Dawn, Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, Beau Geste, The Cat and the Canary, The Ghost Breakers, Nothing But the Truth, Reap the Wild Wind & The Sign of the Cross
Noticeably missing here is an introduction by the late TCM host Robert Osborne, which was present on the Universal Cinema Classics DVD.
Although it got a mixed reception with critics, Unconquered is made to order for devotees of Cecil B. DeMille’s work. Kino has delivered likely the best home video incarnation of the movie with a stellar HD transfer and a great commentary track sharing details on the movie as well. Very highly recommended and worth upgrading from the DVD.
Amazon.com: Unconquered [Blu-ray]: Gary Cooper, Paulette Goddard, Howard Da Silva, Boris Karloff, Cecil Kellaway, Ward Bond, Virginia Campbell, Katherine DeMille, Henry Wilcoxon, C. Aubrey Smith, Cecil B. DeMille: Movies & TV
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