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The Louis L'Amour Western CollectionRelease Date: 19 May 2010

Louis L’Amour (1908-1988) is still the most successful western writer of all time. His prolific output of over ninety novels and six short story collections continue to sell and remain distinctly popular with fans of the genre. Naturally his work was called upon for adaptation on the big and small screen, and this 4-disc DVD set brings together three distinctive westerns: Catlow (1971) starring Yul Brynner, The Sacketts (1979) featuring Sam Elliot, Tom Selleck and Glen Ford, and Conagher (1991) starring Sam Elliot and Katherine Ross.

Buy the The Louis L’Amour Western Collection here.

Catlow (MGM, dir: Sam Wanamaker, 1971)
starring Yul Brynner, Richard Crenna and Leonard Nimoy.

Yul Brynner in Louis L'Amour Western Catlow

A lively performance from the legendary Yul Brynner is the highlight of this pacy, comic western. He plays gunslinging outlaw Catlow, whose attempts to escape the law are thwarted by the determined yet dignified Sheriff Cowan, played by Richard Crenna. The chase kicks off in Apache country, where sniping bullets are accompanied by arrows, and leads Catlow’s posse over the border to Mexico where they attempt an ambitious gold robbery. Cowan gets his hands on Catlow every once in a while, only to be given the slip by his wily, charismatic adversary. But it’s not only Cowan who’s after him; a mysterious hit man is also on his tail, played by none other than Leonard Nimoy.

Yul Brynner was made famous by the exotic, brooding persona that was developed through films such as The King and I and Anastasia. He of course made a name for himself in Westerns through his role in The Magnificent Seven, and Catlow was made only a couple of years before that mysterious persona was used to brilliant effect in the unnerving sci-fi western Westworld. In Catlow he plays against his usual persona with an upbeat comic performance. He’s a man-of-the-world, quick-witted, sly and charismatic. Brynner’s trademark Russian accent and distinctive look almost feel out of place against the dusty surroundings of the Mexican border, but add an appealing mystery to his character.

Since we are in the western world of Louis L’Amour, the film is pleasingly loaded with traditions of the genre, such as gunfights, stagecoach heists and the requisite saloon bathtub sequence. Yet while this is certainly familiar territory, the film distinguishes itself through its breezy tone and easy blending of comic drama with action. Brynner and Crenna as the outlaw and sheriff create a double act, enjoyably playing off each other in their game of cat-and-mouse, and Nimoy is totally convincing as the tough, mysterious hit man. One particularly extraordinary sequence sees Brynner fist-fighting a nude Leonard Nimmoy. It’s as though Women in Love was relocated to the old West.

Made in 1971, Catlow was one of the final westerns with its roots firmly in the tradition of the classic studio-era western. In 1969 The Wild Bunch had already kick-started a tougher brand of western that would lead to a more self-conscious expression of the genre. This meant stronger violence (The Last of the Hard Men), political agendas (Soldier Blue, Little Big Man), elegiac farewells to old Hollywood (The Shootist), satires (The Life and Times of Judge Roy Hill) and twists on the genre (Westworld). Catlow, then, is an unselfconscious western that sticks to its guns and delivers a concise, star-driven and entertaining action picture.

Extra Features: Theatrical Trailer.

The Sacketts (NBC, dir: Robert Totten, 1979)
starring Tom Selleck, Sam Elliot, Jeff Osterhage and Glenn Ford.

Louis L'Amour The Sacketts Tom Selleck Jeff Osterhage Classic Western

The Sacketts is absolutely worth its three-hour running time. An epic adaptation of L’Armour’s The Daybreakers and Sacketts, it tells the story of the Sackett brothers and their journey from cattle drivers to lawmen. Played with typical gravity by Sam Elliot, Tell Sackett is now a hardened, nomadic drifter, whose wanderings lead him on a quest for gold. He hasn’t seen his other two brothers in a decade, and Orrin (Tom Selleck) and Ty (Jeff Osterhage) have since become cattle drivers under the watch of their world-weary boss, played by Glenn Ford. Orrin is a brave, well-liked and noble man that his younger brother Ty looks up to, so much so that when he settles in New Mexico he earns himself a tin star.

The Sacketts is filled with strong performances. We witness Tom Selleck here in his pre-Magnum days and it’s easy to see how he became such a major TV star, giving his character a kind of quiet charisma. He also makes a very convincing cowboy and surely the success of The Sacketts was a major reason why Selleck has continued a sideline in TV westerns throughout his career.

Sam Elliot is perhaps the definitive on-screen cowboy of the modern age. He has forged a career based upon his wise, low-talking, moustachioed western persona, and even in these times when westerns have remained out of the mainstream he continued on with his on-screen character, turning up in the unlikeliest of places (the bowling alley of The Big Lebowski or the fantasy world of The Golden Compass). Here Elliot’s performance is dark, brooding and dangerous. A nomad wandering through mountainous plains, he has become estranged from his family and is now a withdrawn and troubled man. He talks scarcely, yet when he does he reveals himself to be tough, mean, yet fair.

Glenn Ford is part of the old guard of the Hollywood western, having starred in such classics as 3:10 to Yuma, and here you are reminded at what a powerful and meticulous actor he was. A few striking close-ups convey conflicting emotions all at once. He can convey both toughness and weakness at the same time.

The Sacketts is a film that offers up all the pleasures of the western in one place, from the locales: small towns, big vistas, banks, saloons, jailhouses, hotels, gold-riddled mountains; to the plot and themes: cattle-ranching, small-town politics, familial drama, evil posses, and tense shoot-outs; to the authentic performances: the trio of Tom Selleck, Sam Elliot and Glenn Ford, as well as the handful of character actors (including genre veteran Ben Johnson. It’s a film that galvanises the western genre, that defies its running time and which deserves to be seen more often.

It was originally made for television but the scope of the writing and the authenticity of the production design means that it certainly works as a big screen experience. The combination of the tight, varied, suspenseful plotting and the strong performances carry you easily through the film and it certainly earns its three-hour running time.

Extra Features: None.

Conagher (TNT, dir: Reynaldo Villalobos, 1991)
starring Sam Elliot and Katherine Ross.

Conagher Sam Elliot With Gun

In contrast to The Sacketts, Conagher is a more intimate drama about homesteader Evie Teale (Katherine Ross) who is forced to look after her children alone when her husband never returns from his journey to a distant town. Her home soon becomes used as a temporary rest point for the new stagecoach and there she comes in contact with a lonely drifter, Conagher, played by Sam Elliot.

As in The Sacketts Elliot’s character is tough and uncompromising, but here he proves also be particularly sensitive. While on the one hand being a dangerous-but-moral gunfighter, he is also struck by a deep sense of loneliness on his travels. He is clearly taken by Evie Teale, whose resilience he admires. Indeed at one point she and her children successfully fight off Indians who attack her homestead. Conagher also has his own problems – a no-good posse are on his tail, leading to a particularly suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse up the side of a rocky cliff, as well as tense gunfights with distant snipers.

Interestingly both Sam Elliot and Katherine Ross share a writing credit on this made-for-TV movie and Elliot was also a co-producer, suggesting that he was a driving force in bringing it to the screen. And although it is a Sam Elliot vehicle Katherine Ross’s is fortunately given enough screen time to develop her character of a resourceful woman in the male-dominated West. Female characters are too-rarely the focus of this often-macho genre and Conagher is a welcome exception. Fans of The Graduate would also be interested in seeing Ross give a strong, low-key performance.

Extra Features: None.

About the Transfers

Catlow looks strong with a transfer that convincingly translates a 70s-era print, maintaining good colours in the brighter sequences, strong detail, and conveying the appropriate atmosphere of the darker sequences. It’s important to note that both The Sacketts and Conagher were made for TV broadcast, so are both are presented in their original 4:3 aspect ratio. The Sacketts contains a great amount of vivid imagery, colour and detail and the print has been cleaned up. Due to its lengthy running time, The Sacketts is spread over two discs. Although the most recent film in the set, the image of Conagher is perhaps the weakest, most noticeably in the darker sequences. While it is a little soft throughout, presumably due to the nature of its TV-broadcast origins, the image is strongest in the brightly-lit, outdoor sequences. However I expect that this image reflects how the film would have been seen on its original broadcast.

Conclusion

These three Westerns are distinctly different from each other but provide interesting and entertaining variations of the western and of L’Amours work, from the light comedy of Catlow, to the epic scope of The Sacketts and the intimacy of Conagher. These would be highly recommended to those interested in L’Amour or in post-classical westerns more generally, but also to fans of its stars: Sam Elliot, Tom Selleck, Yul Brynner and Glenn Ford. While an extra feature giving some context to L’Amour and his work would have been appreciated, ultimately all three films really do entertain. At the price it’s a bit of a bargain for fans of the western.

Buy the The Louis L’Amour Western Collection here

Leonard Nimmoy in Louis L'Amour Western Catlow

Leonard Nimmoy in Catlow (1971)

Doctor Zhivago Blu Ray

David Leans’s stunning epic Doctor Zhivago comes to Blu-Ray on Monday 4th May. If the masterful Blu-Ray editions of films such as The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, North by Northwest and 2001: A Space Odyssey are anything to go by, this is yet another essential and important release from the Warner Bros. archive.

If you are interested in the preservation of classic cinema, as well as getting closer to an original theatrical presentation, then this 1080p release of Doctor Zhivago is essential. Warner has done more for the classic filmgoer than any of the other major studios, always making sure that their releases look and sound as good as possible. Below you’ll find information on the extensive work that the studio has undergone to preserve and restore this essential movie.

You can order the Doctor Zhivago Blu-Ray here. There is also a U.K. edition set for release on 10th May, which can be ordered here.

Restoring Zhivago

For 2002’s Dr. Zhivago Two-Disc Special Edition, Warner went back to the original 35mm camera negative to make new photo chemical restoration, but because negative damage was extensive, they were only moderately successful.  The damage was caused in part by the extraordinary number of release prints struck over the years, and many of those prints were enlarged to 70mm, which added wear and tear. In places where the negative was simply too damaged to use and in the past other elements were found, duped and inserted, but they didn’t match the original negative’s quality. Additionally, fine tuned color correction was impossible within the limits of the chemical process.

For the upcoming Blu-ray and DVD 45th Anniversary Editions, debuting May 4, the restoration was successful in completing a digital restoration from the original 35mm camera negative with new digital tools that allow far greater subtlety and accuracy, Warner Bros. has been able to overcome the obstacles above to generate an extraordinarily accurate and beautiful new master that reveals the original negative’s magnificence.

The new Dr. Zhivago Blu-ray master was created from an 8k scan rendered in a 4k finish.  Challenges overcome are as follows:

  • Sprocket holes. So torn on the film’s negative that when rolling the film through the chemical bath machinery, the image was unstable. The digital scan equipment was able to overcome the unsteadiness and obtain a very stable image
  • Frame Damage. Totaled 40,000 frames which equates to about forty minutes of the film.  While Warner’s new master was derived from the original camera negative, damaged sections had been removed from the camera negative over time and inferior dupe elements cut into the camera negative. Warner removed the poor dupe sections from the camera negative and replaced them with better quality film elements.
  • Color correction. The original camera negative contained much more picture resolution and color information than the film element used for the 2001 version. So MPI  scanned the original negative at 8k resolution to capture all the detail and color information and were able to seamlessly match the restored frames to the original color negative, using an original Technicolor print as reference. One of the greatest improvements of new digital color correction over its photo chemical and early digital predecessors is that they could correct color fading, which appears as yellowed hightlights and blue shadow areas, without compromising the original color values or other colors or areas in the frame.  Digital tools allow us to isolate and treat each of the 29,360,128 pixels that create a single frame.

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Christian Hayes
classicfilmshow@gmail.com
christianhayes.net
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