Ah, the Gunfighters Of The West. Everyone loved cowboys growing up, didn't they? Some of us still do. As a man who was raised on western movies, there are few areas of history (American history) in particular that fascinate me as much as the Old West. I think we'll all agree that those pistol slinging bandits were the most interesting aspect of a fascinating time.
These men where hardened, professional killers who were out for number one. They exploited the townspeople and took advantage of whomever they could whenever they could. They made life a living Hell for the local law enforcement officials and were just generally all around bad men to know. They were also amazing skilled with their weapons and their planning and while these guys were literally 'bad guys' for the most part, many of them were quite ingenious.
Brian Dennehy supplies the gruff narration on this three disc set that takes us back in time to dig into the past lives of ten of the most notorious pistoleros to ever dirty their boots on American soil. All ten parts were shot on location as much as possible (obviously a lot of the buildings and even in some cases the towns where some of this history took place are no longer with us), and aside from Dennehy's narration the series also features plenty of interviews with wise and educated Western Historian types, and loads of historical reenactments that, when combined with the wealthy of archival photos, do a great job of fleshing out the individual stories of the ten subjects that the set focuses on.
Wild Bill Hickok - James Butler Hickok was a feared gunman and a professional gambler by trade who was fired from his position as a Marshal for shooting first and asking questions later. This segment follows his history from his childhood on the family farm to his many encounters with stagecoach bandits and onto his legendary fight with a bear. He essentially took down the entire McCanles gang single handedly with his two Colt pistols and later got involved in the Civil War where he was rumored to have shoot dead fifty Confederate soldiers. He later hooked up with Calamity Jane after turning into a bit of a drunk, and was shot dead at the age of thirty nine by Jack McColl who accused Hickok of killing his brother a few years back before his fall from grace.
The James Gang - Lead by Frank and Jesse James with some help from time to time from Cole Younger, The James Gang were a very active group of stagecoach and railroad bandits that operated from 1866 until 1881. They'd also sometimes move into towns and rob the local banks as well. Obviously this behavior did little to endear them to the citizens or sheriffs of the towns that they wandered in and out of during this time. The gang fell apart when a bank robbery went bad and a few of the members were killed. Their activity died off only to restart again a few years later in a different state, and was then silenced forever when Bob Ford murdered Jesse James in 1881.
John Wesley Hardin - A Texan famed for shooting a man because he snored, John Wesley Hardin was a bad, bad man. He'd killed almost twenty people from before he even hit that same age, and didn't limit his rage to just citizens and fellow cowboys – he killed a lot of law enforcement officials as well. After doing hard time, he studied for a law degree and worked as a lawyer and had an affair with the wife of one of his clients. When Hardin hired a man to kill her husband (his client), the tables were turned and he ended up killing Hardin himself instead. By the time he died he'd killed at least thirty people.
Bat Masterson - William Barclay Masterson was better known as Bat. He served as a buffalo hunter, gunfighter and then eventually as the Sheriff of Ford County at the tender age of twenty-two years old. He later moved to Tombstone and gambled a lot, he was then off to Denver where he drank a lot and got into trouble with the local law. Shortly after he was run out of town, Teddy Roosevelt appointed Masterson as a US Marshal in New York. He retired to a life of writing in 1907 and died of natural causes in 1921.
Billy the Kid - William H. Bonney is probably the most famous outlaw of all time. He fell in with the wrong crowed when his troubled family moved to Arizona, and was arrested (though he broke out and escaped). He wandered around working as a ranch hand and then a gambler then later worked as a horse thief. At the age of sixteen he shot dead a man named Frank Cahill, then made a run for it and lived the rest of his life a wanted man. He joined a gang that would become known as the Regulators that was responsible for killing many people including a few law enforcement officials. When Pat Garrett was made a US Marshal he set out to get Billy The Kid, and he got him into custody only for him to escape shortly after. Garrett hunted him down again and shot him dead in July of 1881.
The Earp Brothers - The Earp Brothers are best known for their stand off at the O. K. Corral with the aid of Doc Holliday in Tombstone. There were some outlaws in town that the Sheriff asked them to bring in and the showdown occurred on an empty patch of land just outside the corral, not actually in it. Wyatt and Virgil shot the gang dead and went on to lead interesting lives as occasional gunfighters before retiring. Wyatt Earp's memoirs were recorded in 1927 before his death in 1929.
Elfego Baca - Rumored to have popped out of his pregnant mother while she was playing baseball, Baca was born in 1865. He supposedly befriended Billy The Kid at the age of sixteen and was later deputized at the age of nineteen. He struck up a rivalry with Charlie McCarthy shortly thereafter and this lead to a thirty-six hour stand off between Baca and McCarthy's gang. In 1888 he became a Marshal and then later a lawyer and served in this capacity for many years, defending mainly Mexican immigrants. He died in his sleep at the age of eighty.
Tom Horn - Tom Horn began his career as an army scout and then a stagecoach driver. He then made the transition to an official detective at the Pinkerton agency but left after working there for four years. He moved to Wyoming to work as a cattle resulting detective and made many enemies when he started making short work of many of the cattle thieves in the area. He was later accused of ambushing and killing a fourteen year old boy, and was hung at the neck for this offence at the age of forty-two years of age.
The Dalton Gang - Grat, Bill, Bob and Emmett Dalton were four brothers who ended up living a life of crime after a rather odd upbringing. Though they served as law enforcement officials for a while, they soon turned to bank robbing after getting a gang together. They also robbed trains, ran moonshine, and stole horses.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid were the two leaders of a group of thieves known as the Hole In The Wall gang. Butch was known as the brains of the operation while The Sundance Kid was the muscle and the iron behind it all. After getting busted for robbing a train, a gang of Marshals began following them from town to town looking to bring them in. Over rock, through towns, across rivers, the group is always just behind them. Butch decided that the gang should make a break for the border and head to Argentina where they could avoid prosecution. They stayed there for two years and then moved on to Bolivia where they were also involved in many bank robberies.
The 1.33.1 image is pretty clean and aside from some obvious edge enhancement in a few scenes rearing its ugly head now and then, pretty consistent as well. Some of the colors look a little flat but the black levels are pretty solid. There are a lot of older photographs and stills used to illustrate the events that are discussed in detail within each segment and some of these are understandably in bad shape but the new footage with the historians and the interviews is all easy enough to look at without any serious issues.
A perfectly sufficient Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track adorns this set. The narration is clear and concise sounding and the music and sound effects littered throughout each of the documentaries all sound just fine without any audible evidence of hiss or distortion. While this is hardly the set you'll want to bust out to show off your home theater gear, there are no issues worth reporting on the audio portion of this release. It's a simple mix, but it's appropriate and efficient.
Sadly, here is where this DVD set falls painfully short – despite the combined running length of roughly five hundred minutes there isn't a single extra feature to be found on any of the three discs.
Gunfighters Of The West is a crash course in the history of the old west compressed onto three easy to store shiny discs. There's a wealth of great information here and plenty of interesting stories and artifacts presented throughout. Will some of the subjects are pretty familiar, there are enough of the more interesting and more obscure western legends given their due to make this set recommended for Western movie fans and history buffs alike.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.