Chisum, McQ, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon do the Duke proud.
John Wayne’s career saw him star in well over one hundred films, and while they’re not all classics enough of them are to warrant the Duke’s presence on the best home video format of the moment. Collections of his have been hitting shelves, with Warner Bros.’ John Wayne Westerns Film Collection being my favorite so far thanks to its mix of titles and packaging. There are still plenty of films left though, and thankfully WB is doing great work in releasing more of them for our consumption.
Three of Wayne’s films have come to Blu-ray over the past couple of months, and only two of them are westerns! They’re also incredibly affordable, so if you’re a fan you should probably just blind buy them right now. Otherwise keep reading for our look at WB’s three new John Wayne releases on Blu-ray.
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)
Captain Brittles (Wayne) is approaching the end of his military service as a cavalry commander in America’s wild West, but as his final days count down violence escalates around him. News arrives that General Custer and his men have been soundly defeated by Indian forces, and for his final mission Brittles is tasked with escorting a major’s wife and niece out of harm’s way.
He and his men do just that, but it’s far from a problem-free assignment. The troop remains a target for warring Indian tribes, and shots are fired on more than one occasion, but issues arise within their ranks as well as the addition of a young lady leads to a face-off between romantically-interested men.
While the two films below feature Wayne in the late stages of his career and life, this John Ford classic sees him in his prime but aged up with makeup. Perhaps oddly, with that artificially mature exterior comes one of Wayne’s best performances. Brittles is a widower who lost his wife and children, and for him a post in the army has provided him with a family. He’s no taskmaster, and he maintains an authoritative position towards the men, but we see a softness when he thinks he’s beyond their view.
The film is far more about the camaraderie and antics of the troop then it is about battles with enemy forces, but Wayne and his supporting cast keep things interesting with Ben Johnson and Victor McLaglen being entertaining in particular. The backdrop to it all is endlessly beautiful too as Ford’s camera captures landscapes, hills, and fields for days. It’s a place where blossoming romances make sense and acts of war confuse.
This is a Warner Archive release, but they’ve remastered it by going back to the original three-strip Technicolor negatives, and the result is as sharp and colorful as you could hope.
- John Ford Home Movies featurette
John Chisum (Wayne) is a legend of a man ‐ we’ll come to see it through his interactions with those around him, but the opening ballad tells us as much right from the beginning ‐ who’s built an empire in America’s untamed West. The cattle baron has fought his way to success against the evils of men and the misfortunes of nature, but his greatest battle comes from another successful businessman, Lawrence Murphy (Forrest Tucker).
Murphy is trying to wrest power from Chisum and from the town they share, but the man, the legend, is having none of it. Their feud starts peaceful enough with some friendly competition between banks and stores, but the separate arrivals of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett come as the fight grows far deadlier.
Director Andrew V. McLaglen worked with Wayne five times with Chisum being their penultimate pairing. It’s every bit an old-school western it its themes of owning the West and scenes featuring gunfights, horse/cattle rustling, and what goes into making a legend, and it stands out in Wayne’s late career for that traditional outlook. It’s not the step backwards that some might see it as though, and is instead a confident and competent return to past sensibilities.
The only element that doesn’t quite hold up is the music. From the opening ballad (“Chisum! John Chisum!”) to the handful of additional songs that show up throughout the film, the music feels at odds with the violent history being portrayed onscreen. The contrast is actually most evident in the scene where Chisum and his men gun down half a dozen horse thieves ‐ all to a playful, jaunty score.
Warner Bros. brings Chisum to Blu-ray with a gorgeous 2k transfer that helps the widescreen photography and landscapes pop with sky blues and red earth. Fans of the film and of Wayne will be more than happy.
- Commentary with director Andrew V. McLaglen
- John Wayne and Chisum featurette
Lon McQ (Wayne) is a hard-nosed detective working the streets of Seattle, and while he fights the good fight he knows the system and the grind are just as much his enemy as the bad guys. When his partner and best friend, Stan Boyle, is murdered McQ begins an investigation to find his killers, but he’s stymied from above and shocked by what he discovers.
Turns out his partner and best friend was a dirty cop. Worse, Stan wasn’t the only one. Facing the wrong end of a gun on the street and equally dangerous obstacles back at the station, McQ goes rogue to get to the bottom of things and take down the bad guys.
Wayne didn’t make very many contemporary films across his long career as the vast majority are obviously period westerns. Of his handful of present-day features though McQ is perhaps surprisingly the first to cast him as a cop. (He followed it with his second, Brannigan, in a continued effort to forget that he apparently turned down the role of Dirty Harry a few years prior.) It’s a natural fit for the big, confidently-statured actor, and while his age means he’s not as active as some onscreen cops he more than holds his own.
The action sequence include car chases and gun fights, and even if seeing Wayne at the wheel of Trans Am or firing a MAC-10 machine gun feels slightly removed from his usual horse and six-gun he still sells the image. McQ doesn’t do anything new (aside from casting Wayne) and its story is a familiar one, but director John Sturges delivers a solid ’70s film all the same.
Warner’s new Blu offers a new 2k restoration, and as with Chisum above the picture here is noticeably better than we’ve seen it before. There’s only a single, mostly forgettable extra feature here, but fans will still want to pick up a copy.
- McQ: John Wayne in Action featurette