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Warner Home Video presents
Dodge City (1939)

Wade: Be sure you boil that water before you drink it.
Abbie: I'll bet two minutes after you were born, you were telling the doctors what to do.

- Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: April 19, 2005

Stars: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Bruce Cabot, Frank McHugh, Alan Hale
Other Stars: Ann Sheridan, Henry Travers, Henry O'Neill, Gloria Holden, Douglas Fowley, Victor Jory, John Litel, William Lundigan, Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams, Ward Bond
Director: Michael Curtiz

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:43m:55s
Release Date: April 19, 2005
UPC: 012569704022
Genre: western


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ AAB- B+

DVD Review

Although I consider myself well studied in the careers of vintage Hollywood stars, I'm afraid one of my weak spots lies in the works of a charismatically charming gent from the land of Tasmania, whom I didn't exactly warm to at first. Perhaps the roots of this resistance date back to when I was a kid in the age of variety shows back in the 1960s. Often times, the cast of almost any of these programs would do movie parodies, poking fun at debonair stars with hints of John Barrymore, Douglas Fairbanks and this particular performer in question: mustache always neatly trimmed, smiling teeth always pearly white (sometimes accompanied by a little "ding" sound effect or artificially enhanced enamel shining via technical wizardry (think The Carol Burnett Show's woefully underrated Lyle Waggoner).

But with a boxed set of films from Warner Home Video hitting the market this week, TCM's month-long tribute/tie-in showcasing over 30 of his movies, and positive buzz on a documentary that deftly balances his on- and off-set exploits, thjis is a good time to resume our Flynn 101 studies.

Dodge City, from Hollywood's golden year of 1939, is set in post-Civil War Kansas. Wade Hatton (Flynn) along with fellow cowpokes Rusty and Tex (Alan Hale, Guinn Williams) are in a Lone Star state of mind after devoting three years to helping feed the Army via their expertise in rounding up buffalo. But there's one last-minute mission to take care of: capturing crooked cattle rustler Jeff Surrett (Bruce Cabot) before going off to Dodge City, named after Colonel Dodge (Henry O'Neill), whose vision of bringing the railroad into Kansas has at longlast become reality. Hopes for the new spot on the map are high for a future metropolis laced with "honesty, courage, morality, and culture" for all who choose to relocate there. But that vision flames out in a blaze of gunfire and debauchery. Thanks to a resurfacing Surrett, accompanied by chief henchmen Yancey (Victor Jory) and Munger (Douglas Fowley), it could easily be dubbed "Sin City" thanks to this greedy bunch whose complete disregard for the law and morality drives many away, while those who choose to remain live in a state of fear.

It's this atmosphere that Wade and Rusty mosey back into when leading the niece of a prominent city doctor safely back into town, but not before misfortune strikes along the way when Abbie (Olivia de Havilland) loses her wayward alcoholic brother during a cattle stampede he helped put into motion. Surprisingly, Abbie's uncle is deeply understanding about the whole incident, almost lethargic in tone, since the deaths of loved ones is a daily occurrence in Dodge town. Yet and still, it isn't enough to make Wade give up the wagon trail circuit—until a heartbreaking tragedy involving one of the townspeople cuts him to the bone. And it's going to take much more than the equivalent of pointed edges and steel in Hatton's badge (not to mention nerve and courage) to go head to head with surly Surrett to restore Dodge City.

What a terrific movie. Some may find it predictable with a ton of familiarities common to most Westerns, but if you put yourself back in the period in which this film was prepared; when the genre had been relegated to B-movie level production values only to have a second- or third-tier actor from many of those quickies soon to be known as The Duke (with a little help from ace director John Ford) helped reinvent the formula in Stagecoach, you'll find yourself roped in by the wonder that is Dodge City.

Flynn is unquestionably superb as Wade, looking even more comfortable and confident than his pirate films; even his accent is toned down a few notches, just as naturally as it would for be any transplanted foreigner who's spent time down South and mastered the transformation of "you all" to "y'all." Again, the chemistry between Flynn and beloved, longtime co-star de Havilland is electric. The actress proves her versatility going from prim and proper English maiden to a rough hewn prairie girl who wants nothing to do with this dusty saddle rider until those twinkling eyes and irresistible personality win her over.

Director Michael Curtiz was one of the most versatile, energetic and finest overseers to set foot in Hollywood, with a list of genuine classics (including Casablanca, White Christmas, and even an Elvis movie, King Creole). Like his frequent leading man, Dodge City was the director's first foray into Westerns and he wasted no effort in pulling out all his trademark stops here, including three classic sequences: a thrilling rescue attempt in which you feel like you're riding gallantly alongside Wade; the mid-film barroom brawl, which must have utilized every available stuntman (and stuntwoman) in Hollywood (some say it inspired the similiar large-scale scuffle in Casablanca four years later); and one of the most all-out thrilling train finales of all time from the days when technical wizardry couldn't fly in fiery images to protect the actors; (de Havilland and even Flynn look positively frightened, which makes the scene even more of a gripper). But due must be credited to the beautiful cinematography of Sol Polito, a name you should hear more of thanks to his groundbreaking camera work on I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, 42nd Street, and his first collaboration with Curtiz, The Charge of the Light Brigade. (Who can forget the battle sequence in the final reel? I still haven't). His exterior work here is like watching vintage oil paintings of western scenery come to life; one of the most beautifully photographed film of any style I've yet to see.

About the only shortcoming is a rather thankless performance by vintage Warner Bros. favorite Ann Sheridan, the tough-talking yet immensely beautiful actress who more than held her own against the likes of Bogart, Cagney, and Raft during her peak. Here, she only gets to warble a couple of forgettable tunes and utter about a half page of dialogue, but does she ever look pretty on a saloon stage with a red mane that could give Maureen O'Hara a run for her Technicolor money.

There are, however, numerous riches in the wonderful supporting performances from Bruce Cabot as Surrett (miles away from the dashing hero that rescued Fay Wray from the clutches of King Kong), Frank McHugh as the excitable newspaper reporter, bad guys Victor Jory and Douglas Fowley, child actor Bobs Watson (Boy's Town) in a role you'll never forget, and both Alan Hale and Guinn Williams, whose wonderful sidekick interplay with Flynn (one of many nicely done comic touches, by the way) supply much needed comic relief almost precisely when it is much needed.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: Upon seeing the first frames of film once the credits faded, I said "Wow," and that stayed with me for the next 104 minutes.

To my knowledge, Dodge City did not receive the top-of-the-line Lowery treatment given to Gone with the Wind, but to these eyes, it looks just rapturous. Lush browns, deep blues, accurate skintones, excellent registration (so important with early Technicolor efforts)—it does nothing wrong. With less than a handful of visual print-related anomalies that don't detract in the least, this is one of the best transfers of a 1930s film ever. Though just missing a perfect rating, it's still gorgeous. Mesmerizing.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: Though Technicolor was growing by leaps and bounds as the 1940s awaited, audio was still getting its sea legs. A rather routine mono audio track for the time that's been cleaned up where possible, but dialogue is still tinny (especially in location-based sequences) and Max Steiner's excellent score (what a year for that guy, and don't some of you think this opening theme sounds like a variation on Tara's Theme from another film he scored at the time?). But most of us used to the conditions of the era will take the shortcomings in stride.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Oklahoma Kid
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Vintage Movietone Newsreel
  2. Oscar Winning Short Sons of Liberty
  3. Cartoon: Dangerous Dan McFoo
  4. Featurette: Dodge City: Go West, Errol Flynn
Extras Review: It's Warner Night at the Movies again, and that means a fun evening with appropriate bonuses thrown into the mix to help recreate the programming of a typical night at the local neighborhood bijou circa 1939.

Following a preview of the material by resident DVD movie guru Leonard Maltin is a trailer for The Oklahoma Kid (02m:45s) featuring an always peppy James Cagney trading quips and bullets with a very uncomfortable Humphrey Bogart (the Black Bart look just did not suit him; he looked more at home in The Return of Doctor X). Then, it's news time courtesy of a vintage Movietone (01m:55s) reel featuring footage of Warsaw's capture by Hitler's regime. The downcast mood created by these sad visuals is lifted by Sons of Liberty (20m:34s), an unusual and patriotic historical short subject (with Curtiz and Polito collaborating in Technicolor yet again) starring the brilliant Claude Rains as Haym Saloman, the brave transplanted European whose passion for his new homeland pushed him to raise funds for the American Revolution and work extremely risky undercover missions for President Washington. With only 20 minutes to work in, corners have to be unfortunately cut with narration filling in the gaps, but it's still a very effective trip back in time. Pre-movie entertainment concludes with Dangerous Dan McFoo (07m:52s), a vintage Merrie Melodies effort directed by the madcap Tex Avery. Featuring a cast of animated doggies, all our title hero wants to do is shoot a game of pinball when in walks a hot little number, which puts an end to point scoring—as well as a potentially life-threatening end courtesy of a jealous canine who wants an instant girlfriend, too. Not stone cold classic Avery, but the genius' trademark sight gags are plentiful with quite a few laughs that make the seven-minute run time flow by quickly.

Dodge City's most unusual theatrical trailer is included, which is more along the lines of MGM's Travel Talks series as cameras capture the excitement of the actual town that inspired the movie as a premiere brings out what appears to be the town's entire population. Along with quick glimpses of stars Flynn and Sheridan riding in a commemorative parade, if you look fast, you'll also see Warner mainstays including Humphrey Bogart and Priscilla Lane among others.

Finally, Go West, Errol Flynn (08m:34s) closes the extras with yet another of those nicely composed capsule biographical summaries that the Warner camp does so well. Film professor Lincoln D. Hurst joins with familiar historians Robert Osborne, Bob Thomas, and walking encyclopedia Rudy Behlmer, who combine their knowledge to accentuate the importance of Dodge City as more than just another Errol Flynn vehicle. In addition to pointing out the invaluable contributions of director Curtiz, this also gives a nice pat on the back to supporting players Cabot, Jory, Hale and Sheridan with brief recaps of their careers prior to the making of the film.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

An absolutely wonderful, beautifully photographed Western from Technicolor's salad days, Dodge City marks a triumph for Errol Flynn, who proved he could do more than brandish swords and flash a smile. Put it together with a "Warner Night at the Movies" treatment and a sparkling transfer, and no Western fan worth his boots can afford to pass this one up.

Positively recommended.

 


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