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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
John Wayne Collection (1932-35)

"There's not much to tell. I'm just a cowboy, drifting from place to place."
- John Wyatt (John Wayne), in "Paradise Canyon"

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: July 09, 2002

Stars: John Wayne
Other Stars: Mary Kornman, Paul Fix, Eddy Chandler, Lafe McKee, Henry Hull, Al Ferguson, Marion Burns, Yakima Canutt, Reed Howes, Perry Murdock, Gino Corrado, Gordon Clifford, Earle Hodgins, Verna Hillie, Noah Beery Jr., Iris Lancaster, Noah Beery, Robert Fraser, Earl Dwire, Edward Parker, Tim McCoy, Walter Brennan, Tully Marshall, Alice Day, Wheeler Oakman, Cecilia Parker, George "Gabby" Hayes, Forrest Taylor, Al St. John, Heidie Conklin, Earl Dwire, Lafe McKee, Virginia Brown Faire, Lloyd Whitlock
Director: Cullin Lewis, Carl L. Pierson, Robert N. Bradbury

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 05h:18m:30s
Release Date: May 14, 2002
UPC: 043396058231
Genre: western


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- CDD+ D

DVD Review

John Wayne wasn't quite born that way, was he? He couldn't have been. He didn't just stride out of nowhere into movie iconography the first time he popped up on the screen in Stagecoach, and this two-disc set collects six early Wayne westerns. His name is already above the title in most of them, but they're all B pictures, made quickly and cheaply, so what we see here is not the classic John Wayne we're used to, but it's a chance to discover for ourselves what it was that John Ford saw in him, a fine piece of marble in need of carving. Because based on these movies alone, you wouldn't name an airport after him.

DISC ONE: Riding the Range

Desert Trail
(1935)
Directed by Cullen Lewis (00h:52m:43s)

"Don't come out until you hear our horses leave."
—John Scott

John Scott (John Wayne) and his pal Kansas Charlie (Eddy Chandler) ride into town on the stagecoach, and promise one another that they're swearing off women—that is, until the coach picks up the luscious Juanita (Carmen Laroux). Each of the boys put the moves on her; they promise to see her again, after the rodeo in Rattlesnake Gulch.

This being a John Wayne movie, John Scott wins big at the rodeo, but finds out that the sponsors are only paying twenty-five cents on the dollar of the promised prize money. Scott takes what's rightfully his, at gunpoint, and after he makes off with his cash, a couple of nefarious characters come in and gun down the rodeo proprietor—Scott and Kansas are wanted for the crime.

This isn't a particularly distinguished movie, but a couple of scenes provide Wayne with the opportunity to demonstrate his skills at light comedy, the kind of thing that all but disappears from his stoic, iconic performances in later decades. Obviously made on the cheap, stock horse footage is intercut with the actors; at times it's pretty evident that Wayne is riding a mechanical bull. All the comedy drops out toward the end for a pretty decent shoot-out, but generally this movie probably wouldn't be much remembered if it weren't for its leading man. Also, disastrous new soundtrack music has been laid into the audio track—it sounds synthesized and tinny, draws too much attention to itself and is obviously not appropriate to the picture. A very poor choice by someone looking to modernize or "improve" this movie.

Paradise Canyon (1935)
Directed by Carl L. Pierson (00h:52m:41s)

Dr. Carter: Can you sing or dance?
John Wyatt: Well, I'm sorry, but I'm afraid all I can do is ride and shoot.

John Wayne undercover! This time out, Wayne plays a Federal man name of John Wyatt, out to bust a counterfeit ring operating near the Texas-Mexico border. He worms his way into Dr. Carter's Medicine Show, for the good doctor has a history of passing funny money; he also conveniently has an attractive daughter. Wyatt calls himself John Rogers, and becomes part of the entertainment as the Doc tries to peddle Dr. Carter's Indian Remedy, which cures anything that ails you. (Just ask the doctor. Besides, it's 180 proof.)

Even with a running time of under an hour, the movie feels padded out—there's a lot of Wayne getting on the horse, Wayne riding the horse, Wayne getting off the horse. There's just not a whole lot of story, and the idea of Wayne as a carny performer isn't well exploited. Instead we get Dr. Carter's whole longwinded spiel, and even a couple of songs from his entourage. (They're not very good songs, and the boys aren't especially good singers.) There is of course the obligatory climactic shootout, but not before a few scenes of painful exposition wrapping up whatever story there is.

That same hideous music is here again, too.

The Trail Beyond (1934)
Directed by Robert Bradbury (00h:54m:36s)

"I didn't come here just to hunt wolves."
—Rod Drew

These Westerns are so formulaic that I was surprised to learn something about Wayne's character in the first couple of minutes of this one: he's a college man. Wayne plays Rod Drew, out on the range to help an old timer right an ancient wrong, and who does he run into but Wabi (Noah Beery Jr.), an old pal from campus. For a brief scene, Wayne is even out of his cowboy duds and in a three-piece suit. Wabi has a temper on him, and when, on a train journey, he thinks he's getting cheated at cards, he starts swinging—shots ring out, and Wabi becomes a wanted man. (We know that he's innocent, but the long arm of the law does not.)

So it's Wabi and Rod on the lam, and they stumble upon an old abandoned cabin—the only things in it are a couple of human skeletons and a treasure map. They take the map to town and leave it with friends of Wabi's for safekeeping, but a couple of nefarious Frenchmen get wind of the map, and the chase is on. (The French accents are especially bad and delightful: "Ah could not open zee safe, but Felice, she know la combinashon.")

The plot is particularly difficult to puzzle out in this one, in large measure because it seems as if the story was written around some bits of stock footage. The film grammar is a little cruder than in the previous two (it was made a year earlier, though it's third on the disc), with lots of cutting in on axis, and sloppy camera work generally. There's a pretty cool canoe chase sequence, though, and if the story is tough to follow, it's full of excitement and derring do.

DISC TWO: Riding the Trail

Two Fisted Law
(1932)
Directed by D. Ross Lederman (00h:56m:42s)

"All I can wish for Russell is a rough horse, a cactus saddle and a long journey."
—Duke

The second disc in the set leads off with the oldest of the six movies. John Wayne has second billing, and that's more than a little generous, as his part is little more than a cameo. It's notable, though, for his character's name is Duke, which would shortly become Wayne's own nickname.

The name above the title is Tim McCoy, who plays Tim Clark. An unwise investment in silver mining has forced him to hand over the family ranch to the evil Russell (Wheeler Oakman), though Tim thinks that Russell plays dirty, and vows to get back the Bar-X. Tim heads off for the hills to make his fortune, leaving behind Alice, who not only carries a torch for him, but also looks after his horse, and Russell holds a note on her family's ranch, too.

This movie was made just a few short years after The Jazz Singer, and you can feel in this early talking picture the filmmakers finding their way. Literally, the good guys wear white hats and the bad guys wear black ones, and there's no shortage of obvious exposition in the dialogue. For instance, we're told for maybe the fifth time in five minutes: "I can hardly believe that you're leaving, and that Russell is getting the Bar-X." The acting style seems very vaudevillian, and while McCoy is a reasonably charismatic leading man, it's no surprise that his indicating didn't hold up as well over the years as the laconic Wayne that we see here only briefly.

Tim turns detective by the second half of the brief picture, and the movie is especially notable for the performance of the young Walter Brennan as a corrupt deputy sheriff, in one of Brennan's first pairings with the Duke. Happily, the original score is on the soundtrack, and we're spared the execrable music that mars the first disc in the set, and the following two features on this one. (This is the one movie in the set that bears a Columbia Pictures copyright; the others are registered to Fox Lorber, who have a lot to answer for.)

Riders of Destiny (1933)
Directed by Robert N. Bradbury (00h:49m:23s)

"Make it fast, Slippery. This is your last draw."
—Singin' Sandy Saunders

There's bad news and there's worse news. The bad news: John Wayne plays a singing cowboy in this movie, and Roy Rogers didn't have a whole lot to worry about. Wayne lip syncs poorly to a couple of songs, while strumming the guitar, riding his horse, even while moseying down Main Street to the big shootout with the bad guy. It's a blessing that somebody early on recognized that John Wayne singing is a very bad idea.

The worse news: that damn music is back. The identical synthesized score that appears on all three movies on the first disc recurs here; it's bad enough once, but the fourth time out, it just gets worse and worse.

The movie is a very short and hastily assembled affair, featuring the evil Kincaid (Forrest Taylor), who controls the water rights 'round these parts, trying to buy up his neighbors' land on the cheap, and thus make himself a fortune. But this is not exactly Chinatown, though there's a curious portent of another great movie of the early 1970s, when Kincaid sounds mightily like Vito Corleone, describing his business dealings with a "friend": "I made Denton an offer he can't refuse."

Wayne plays Singin' Sandy Saunders, who bats his eyes at Fay (Cecilia Parker), the purtiest little stagecoach robber this side of Abilene. Fay's father is played by Gabby Hayes, who became a regular Wayne co-star, and he and his daughter are thankful for the help of the handsome newcomer: "A stranger? Who was he?" "I don't know, but he sure was swell."

Singin' Sandy's renown precedes him ("Is he a killer?" "He's got a reputation from here to Kentucky"), and everything gets sorted out in the end, of course—the bad guys get their just deserts, the people get their water, and Singin' Sandy rides off into the sunset. It's a pretty pro forma endeavor, obviously made on the quick, and even includes the terrifying prospect of the Duke going for a double decaf latté, when he promises to bring the wounded sheriff into the next town: "You'll be all right. I'll have you in Starbucks before night."

West of the Divide (1934)
Directed by Robert N. Bradbury (00h:52m:25s)

"Maybe fate's kind of taken a hand in this deal, Dusty."
—Ted Hayden

John Wayne plays Ted Hayden, out to revenge an old wrong: the bad guys killed his father, left him for dead, and kidnapped his little brother. Now, with his trusty sidekick (Gabby Hayes again), Hayden is looking to set things right. He's helped out by the fact that he bears a suspicious resemblance to the evil, wanted Gat Ganss, and thinks that passing himself off as the bad guy may help his cause.

I will admit that, given the setup, I was hoping for an evil twin movie here, with Wayne playing both good and bad guys. No such luck. Instead we're in for an especially convoluted storyline, again having to do with water rights, and with Wayne spending a good deal of time saving young damsels in distress, when he's not coming to the defense of children and animals. Lloyd Whitlock plays the odious Gentry, who is looking to kill everybody between him and the fortune he thinks is rightfully his, including Wayne, if necessary; he's also got designs on the lovely Fay Winters (Virginia Brown Faire), but only if he can kill her father first.

The plot is difficult to follow, and it ends with a series of improbable coincidences and a pretty good fight sequence. I'd like to say that the vendetta of Wayne's character anticipates The Searchers, but it's more coincidence than prefiguring. And yes, that hideous music is back again.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Tremendous care has not been taken in transferring these cheaply made movies to DVD—in all of them, there's lots of interference, scratches and debris, though some look worse than others. The Trail Beyond looks particularly bad, full of junk and faded worse than any of the others. Two Fisted Law looks even worse—a vertical line runs down the center of the screen for most of the picture, and is terribly distracting. Riders of Destiny is badly faded and scratched, to the point that sometimes the actors' faces are barely recognizable; the film seems to have decayed horribly.

Image Transfer Grade: D

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: As with the video, the audio is slipshod, in that these were early, cheap sound pictures, and haven't been spruced up much for DVD. Lots and lots of hiss comes with Two Fisted Law—at first you may think it's the wind rustling through the tumbleweeds, but you'll soon realize that it's merely the poor recording quality of this early talkie. West of the Divide is probably the worst of them, with the dialogue frequently almost impossible to make out.

Audio Transfer Grade: D+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 48 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: 2 disc slip case
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Each title has eight chapter stops, and there's a reasonably informative insert on the making of these movies. That's about all for extras.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

It's no great chore to figure out who wears the white hat (that would be John Wayne, of course), and in my estimation the villain of this set is unquestionably William Barber, the composer whose newly recorded score compromises five of the six feature films here. It's fun to see for John Wayne fans—it's sort of John Wayne before he was truly John Wayne—and each of the six is no longer than an episode of Gunsmoke. But the technical values are low, the music is awful, and the sequence of the movies on the two discs is entirely arbitrary.

 


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