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JOHN WAYNE/JOHN FORD DVD COLLECTION (****)
Movie Review by: Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski
Region:
Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
Format:
Box set, Black & White, Closed-captioned, Color, Special Edition, Widescreen, NTSC.
Number of Discs: 10, DVD Released: 06/06/06.
Unrated
Here’s the scoop: If you have some kind of affinity for and/or interest in the filmmaking mythos of John Ford and John Wayne you need to take a look at this set. You have two legitimate choices – you can drop forty bucks on the ultimate edition of The Searchers or drop double that on this mega box set.

Let’s make a short pro/con list:
Pros: Stagecoach and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. These two gems of Ford’s and Wayne’s are every bit as good as The Searchers, if perhaps not as definitive. The chivalry Wayne showcases in Stagecoach will convince even the most stoic cynics that the man is a genuine movie star, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is an absolutely effortless piece of frontier magic. Any self-respecting Searchers fan should run and not walk to check out these two films.

Cons: The Wings of Eagles and The Long Voyage Home. Now wait a minute – I don’t necessarily find these films to be anything less than noble and fascinating efforts, but compared to The Searchers, Stagecoach and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, they’re notable steps down. This doesn’t make them any less endearing. The Wings of Eagles is a fantastically exciting aviation pic, and The Long Voyage Home showcases one of Wayne’s most bizarre on-screen accents ever. But for those new to the aura of Ford and Wayne, these aren’t explicitly necessary stops to make.

Like the also newly-available John Ford Collection (which presents some of Ford’s most attention-worthy non-Wayne output), The John Ford/John Wayne Collection (which includes Stagecoach, The Long Voyage Home, They Were Expendable, Fort Apache, 3 Godfathers, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers, and The Wings of Eagles) is a godsend for die-hard fans while being quite a daunting and often impenetrable brick for those not versed in these icons’ collaborative works.

The long and the short of it is that fair-weather fans would probably benefit from buying The Searchers’ ultimate edition DVD as a stand-alone (and at the very least renting Stagecoach and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon – and while you’re at it, check out The Quiet Man, a film whose presence is sorely missed in this collection). But hardcore western fans will be able to waste quite a few weekends with this set.

Stagecoach doesn’t look great but, that being said, it has looked a lot worse. Its 1.33:1 transfer is full of dirt. Fine detail quality is frustratingly smeared, but save a full-blown restoration, this is about as good as it’s going get (hint hint, Warner Bros.). The Long Voyage Home starts shaky – the transfer print of the opening credits looks like it’s about to fly out of the projector – but the rest of its full-frame presentation is fine (at the very least a step up from Stagecoach).

They Were Expendable looks fine in its 1.33:1 presentation. There’s quite a bit of nasty grime and strobing in the first couple reels. But once the film gets going, monochromatic contrast gains solidity and the film quality clears up nicely. Fort Apache also looks really nice in this edition. In fact, its clarity and fine detail quality come as a wonderful surprise after the hit-and-miss quality of this DVD box set’s oldest entries. And aside from The Searchers, 3 Godfathers has the best transfer in this box: There’s a vibrancy and clarity to it that provide a marvelous treat.

Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’s presentation is one of the better Technicolor transfers I've ever seen. Blacks are shockingly pure, with vibrant, clean colors and marvelous contrast. Detail is startling for a film this old, with excellent shadow delineation. The print is surprisingly free of blemishes and dirt.

The Searchers also looks great, a serious step up from the maligned 2-DVD set that has been on the market for a while now. I wouldn’t necessarily call it definitive: for some reason, colors never pop as much as they should. But it’s nevertheless a marvelous-looking film that gets an appropriately marvelously transfer. The Wings of Eagles also looks fine in its 1.85:1 anamorphic presence. The fact that it’s the newest entry in this collection is enough to make it a real looker in its own regard.
The mono mixes sound about as good as they can. Stagecoach, being the oldest of the bunch, is the least impressive, but the wonderful clip-clop of the movie’s incessant horse chases still sound okay. The Long Voyage Home sounds much better. It doesn’t escape its mono trappings, but when all is said and done, it sounds fine.

They Were Expendable also has a perfectly appropriate mono sound mix, as does Fort Apache (and Apache’s wonderful music comes through quite well). 3 Godfathers also sounds fine, but She Wore a Yellow Ribbon has some pretty constricted dynamic range. But again, there isn't much you can do with tinny mono source materials. Slightly more grandiose is the stereo mix that comes with The Searchers. It’s a track that still has noticeable compromises, but overall has a lovely heft. We return to mono with The Wings of Eagles, but it still sounds perfectly appropriate.

Scott Eyman’s screen-specific audio commentary on Stagecoach is energetic, if somewhat drawn-out, but the two documentaries included on that film’s 2-disc edition – John Ford/John Wayne: The Filmmaker & The Legend and Stagecoach: A Story of Redemption – are both marvelous (even if A Story of Redemption regurgitates a bit of The Filmmaker & The Legend’s information). Also included are the film’s trailer, and a cute radio presentation of the film starring Claire Trevor and Randolph Scott.
The only bonus on The Long Voyage Home is a short featurette, Serenity at Sea: John Ford and the Araner, that covers the same ground as the Voyage Home section of the long documentary on Stagecoach’s DVD. They Were Expendable only comes with its theatrical trailer, but the short featurette that comes with Fort Apache’s DVD, Monument Valley: John Ford Country, is a fascinating and revelatory look at the director’s irreplaceable efforts in that particular part of the southwestern states. Fort Apache’s trailer is also included.

A trailer is all that comes with 3 Godfathers, and on She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, we get a trailer and a short featurette, called John Ford Home Movies. On the first disc of The Searchers’ ultimate edition, we get a multi-part featurette called Behind the Cameras, a benevolent introduction by Patrick Wayne (yep – son of the legend), and a lovely screen-specific audio commentary from the irreplaceable Peter Bogdanovich. On disc two, we get a congratulatory featurette – Appreciation – with contributions from Martin Scorsese and others, as well as an overlong yet intriguing featurette, A Turning of the Earth, in which we get a look at a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage, unused takes, and a wide breadth of other goodies. Rounding out the edition is the film’s theatrical trailer.
The only bonus with The Wings of Eagles is the film’s trailer.

For eighty bucks, you’re getting a Hell of a deal with this baby, but you’d better be a big fan of both John Wayne and John Ford before making the jump. Audio and video quality is fairly strong across the board, and while certain films have more bonuses than others, this truly stands tall as one of the best box set releases of the year. John Wayne/John Ford fans: Don’t hesitate.

JOHN WAYNE/JOHN FORD DVD COLLECTION © 2006 Warner Bros.
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2006 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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