An entertaining popcorn western enhanced by fine action sequences, appealing performers, nice location photography, and judicious use of 3D, Budd Boetticher’s Wings of the Hawk plays quite beautifully more than sixty years after it first appeared.
The Production: 3.5/5
An entertaining popcorn western enhanced by fine action sequences, appealing performers, nice location photography, and judicious use of 3D, Budd Boetticher’s Wings of the Hawk plays quite beautifully more than sixty years after it first appeared. While its narrative may be the standard story of heroes against corrupt officials featuring a rather predictable triangle romantic relationship at its center, these mundane elements give the movie a comfortable feeling and allow its unusual three-dimensional photography and well-tuned stirring moments to lure an audience in and hold them in its grip.
When corrupt federal Mexican official Colonel Ruiz (George Dolenz) claims Irish Gallagher’s (Van Heflin) profitable gold mine for himself, Gallagher is thrust into the countryside where insurrectionists led by Arturo Torres (Rodolfo Acosta) and his girl friend Raquel Noriega (Julia Adams) save his life but insist they don’t trust him. As Ruiz and his men continue their widespread reign of terror over the area, no one is left unscathed leading Gallagher to band with the rebels to overthrow the federalés, all the while falling in love with his most attractive cohort Raquel.
The screenplay by James E. Moser, as adapted by Kay Ienard from a novel by Gerald Drayson Adams is based on real-life incidents concerning the Mexican revolution of 1910-1911. It manages to include some fist fights, a series of action scenes involving rescues and escapes (surprisingly, not always successful for the protagonists), and a climactic series of explosions that are all pretty impressive, all the while abetting its dramatic exploits with some romantic encounters, some comedic interludes (courtesy of Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales’ Tomas who serenades us on two occasions first with a series of pots and pans and later with bottles and also dances amusingly), and a thoughtful and shrewd use of 3D that is one of the least gimmicky of the Golden Age 3D features (a Gatling gun firing at the audience on multiple occasions is the least effective of the 3D effects, but more subtle effects really do justice to the format). While not filmed on location in Mexico, the outdoor scenes still provide director Budd Boetticher plenty of wide open spaces to stage his scenes of combat and sabotage, and all of them are successfully sustained and most entertaining.
Van Heflin as the hero victimized by the corrupt officials does very nicely fighting for justice using both brawn and brains, and Julia Adams brings a decided tomboy allure to the role of Raquel Noriega. The two also share a pleasing chemistry in all of their scenes together as she inevitably warms to his heroism especially in the face of her lover Arturo’s diminishing bravado. As played by Rodolfo Acosta, Arturo’s false bluster and actual weakness and ineffectual hold on the rebels is nicely shaded and is one of the better performances of the movie. George Dolenz is a properly hissible villain as Colonel Paco Ruiz while alternately Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales makes a most welcome screen debut as the lovable Tomas devoted to the rebels but also capable of vengeance once a member of his family is unjustly murdered by the Mexican soldiers. In smaller roles, Antonio Moreno is effective as the village priest, Paul Flerro meets a noble end as second-in-command Carlos, but Noah Beery Jr.’s Orozco is less effective, hampered by a lack of screen time and a varying Mexican accent he visibly struggles with. Yes, that’s Abbe Lane in a very early role as the sister of Raquel and girl friend of the evil Ruiz.
3D Rating: 5/5
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85 is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC/MVC codec. The miracle workers at the 3-D Film Archive have brought back the color as best they could even if greens sometimes seem a bit on the pale side and contrast is sometimes variable. The image is nevertheless mostly clear and clean with only an occasional dust speck or ding on the screen and with a comforting filmic look to the proceedings with the proper amount of grain. The movie has been divided into 10 chapters.
The 3D work in the picture is masterful. There is a tremendous sense of depth throughout, enhanced by all of the outdoor photography, and objects on differing planes also make for interesting visuals. While popouts aren’t overdone, the few key ones that are present make for a very entertaining time with a horse’s head, a gun lowering into our faces, a thrown knife, water and fire rushing from a flume, and a succession of explosions all making their presences visually felt.
The disc offers the original 3.0 high dynamic range mix and also a repurposed 5.1 surround track (both in DTS-HD Master Audio) for the viewer to choose from at the outset (the 3.0 is the default). Both are very effective mixes. The 5.1 occasionally sounds just a wee bit wider in the front soundstage than the 3.0, but the 3.0 mix offers a wonderful combination of nicely recorded dialogue, Frank Skinner’s involving musical background score, and the very active sound effects. There are no traces of hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter to detract from the listening experience.
Special Features: 4/5
Audio Commentaries: film historian Jeremy Arnold offers a terrifically informative commentary on the movie, its stars and featured players, and director Budd Boetticher’s work here and his previous and subsequent career that makes it a must listen.
3D expert Mike Ballew offers 24:38 worth of trivia and tidbits about the film, the 3D, and the audio in an entertaining second commentary track.
Hypnotic Hick (6:32, 2D/3D): the main titles of this Woody Woodpecker cartoon alone in 3D are worth the price of this disc with popouts, differing planes, and great depth: all in a few seconds of screen time. The cartoon itself has been restored magnificently with deeply saturated colors and expert sound.
Theatrical Trailer (2:12, 2D)
Budd Boetticher’s Wings of the Hawk may not be a classic western, but it’s certainly an entertaining one especially as seen in 3D. The 3-D Film Archive has done a sterling job bringing another Golden Age 3D feature to Blu-ray, and with the inclusion of the most impressive Woody Woodpecker cartoon Hypnotic Hick in 3D as an added inducement, no lover of 3D should be without this disc.
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