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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Great Locomotive Chase
The Great Locomotive Chase
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // Unrated // May 4, 2004
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted May 24, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

I grew up watching the Wonderful World of Disney.  Every Sunday evening we would all pile in front of the television to see what offering Walt was going to serve up that week.  I still have fond memories of the movies that would be shown each week (usually split in half and shown of two consecutive weekends.)  Dexter Riley and his buddies at Medfield College, Mickey and Goofy, and yes, even the nature films were all eagerly devoured, it was the closing of the weekend.  The last relaxing evening before starting another week of school the next moring.

It was on Disney's television show that I first saw The Great Locomotive Chase (renamed Andrews' Raiders for its television broadcast.)  Theatrical released in 1956, this is a civil war adventure story is based on true events that also inspired Buster Keaton's classic movie The General.  But unlike Keaton's film, this story tells the story from the North's point of view.

James J. Andrews (Fess Parker) is a Union spy.  He has come up with a plan to cut the south in half.  He and a small group of men will infiltrate deep into southern territory and steal a train.  While bringing the train back to the North, they plan to tear up the track and cut the telegraph lines as they go.

Picking from a group of volunteers, Andrews' team sneaks into Rebel territory.  Everything goes as planned, until they steal the train.  They weren't counting on the train's conductor, William A. Fuller (Jeffrey Hunter,) to be so stubborn and refusing to give up the chase.  No matter what they do to throw him off their tail, Fuller keeps coming back.

After the great success of the Davy Crockett series, Disney wanted to bring back the star in another historical drama, and decided to place him in this civil war story.  While it is a good movie, The Great Locomotive Chase didn't have the humor and lightheartedness of Parker's previous series.  You know from the beginning of the movie that Andrews doesn't survive, and that puts a damper on the show.

Even so, this is an enjoyable movie to watch with the whole family.  There is a lot of adventure, and some mild suspense that is sure to keep the younger viewers glued to the television.

Fess Parker was his usual charming self, and played the confident and noble spy with great grace, and the rest of the cast is competent.  A movie worth checking out.

The DVD:


Audio:

The two channel mono sound was a little thin, but sounded good.  There wasn't any hiss, and only occasional distortion in some of the louder parts.  The music was clear and the dialog easy to understand.  There was also a French soundtrack along with subtitles in French and English.

Video:

The widescreen video (2.35:1, the movie's original aspect ratio) was not anamorphically enhanced, and wasn't of the highest quality.  The print was an older copy.  Although the movie was filmed in Technicolor, but the colors were faded, and the picture was dark.  There was some evidence of print damage, mainly an occasional speck of dirt.  Details in the background were blurry and you couldn't make out details that were not in the foreground.

The worst part though was the abundant encoding defects.  There was a lot of digital noise in the sky, and aliasing was everywhere.  The brims of the hats, and just about everyone wore them, had a stair step effect.  Closely spaced parallel lines would shimmer and move even if the camera wasn't' moving.  There was also some blocking in the smoke coming off the trains.  These digital defects became very distracting.  It's too bad that Disney didn't pay a little more attention to the quality of this DVD.

The Extras:

Unfortunately, this is a bare bones DVD.  There was an episode of The Wonderful World of Disney entitled Behind the Scenes with Fess Parker that featured the filming of this movie.  It would have been a great extra to include with on this DVD, but Disney decided not to.

Final Thoughts:

This enjoyable movie was marred by less than average picture quality.  I can understand why Disney wouldn't want to go to the expense of remastering a minor film, but they could have easily had a better transfer with less digital defects.  Rent it. 

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