An historical Western coupled with a conventional if star-driven love triangle, Lone Star (1952) is an entertaining, handsome, and all-around class-A production from MGM. Clark Gable stars as an envoy sent by former president Andrew Jackson (Lionel Barrymore) to ensure Texas's annexation to the U.S. The picture dramatizes a fascinating chapter of American history familiar to Texans but much less so the rest of the country. The picture dances a mighty jig trying not to offend, but the passions depicted in this have a strange resonance still felt by many Texans even now.
Despite the appearance of such heavyweights as Gable, Ava Gardner, and Broderick Crawford, Lone Star comes to DVD only now, and as a Warner Archive Collection, MOD title at that. However, the black and white transfer is a stunner, one of the best this reviewer has seen of a 1.37:1 black and white movie. A trailer featuring Gable and Crawford out of character has been tossed in as the lone extra feature.
Looking a lot like a middle-aged Rhett Butler, Devereaux Burke (Gable) arrives at the home of ailing ex-President Andrew Jackson (Barrymore), who asks Burke to ride to Austin, Texas in order to prevent the signing of a treaty with Mexico. Instead, he wants to ensure that the Texas legislature agree to a U.S. annexation of its free republic. Burke is skeptical, especially after hearing native son Sam Houston has already spoken out against annexation. And then there's Thomas Craden (Crawford), a prominent rancher and leader of the opposition, who secretly wants to be Texas's next President.
Burke and Craden accidentally meet on the trail, and together fend off a band of Comanche, in surprisingly violent hand-to-hand combat footage. Craden invites Burke to his ranch, and Burke chooses not to reveal his reasons for visiting Austin. There, among the anti-annexationists Burke meets Martha (Gardner), Craden's sort-of fiancÚ, along with a group of pro-annexationists senators Craden detains when he can't convince them to change sides.
Lone Star is interesting in its depiction of Texas during the ten years it existed as an independent nation, broken off from Mexico (which did not recognize its independence) yet before it joined the Union. The picture walks a tightrope politically, obviously not wanting to mess with Texas and its people's singular nostalgia for its pre-statehood history. Though passions run high on both sides, all are true patriots in the end, even Craden, who pulls a John Dickinson in the final reel once the battle is lost and war with Mexico is certain.
Even in his fifties Gable had lost none of his incredible star power, while Gardner was at the peak of her extraordinary, effervescent beauty. Crawford, still riding high from his 1949 Academy Award (for All the King's Men) is beefy, imposing, and authoritative, making him a good rival for Gable (and for Gardner's affections).
This was the last film of Lionel Barrymore, who died three years later. The short, fat, and wheelchair-bound actor is wildly miscast as Andrew Jackson, who stood 6'1" yet weighed just 135 pounds. As he often did in his later films, Barrymore plays the rear of the theater, gesturing wildly and rolling his eyes so that you wonder they don't pop out of their sockets and roll away. A 12-year-old George Hamilton reportedly plays Jackson's servant, but I didn't spot him. The supporting cast is good, including Beulah Bondi, Ed Begley (Sr.), and William Conrad, the latter fun as a flamboyant Frenchman.
The film looks expensive and its lavishness impresses throughout. The climatic battle between the pro- and anti-annexationists is quite spectacular and imaginative, with unique ideas like Craden's forces ramming through a blockade with telegraph poles slung between two galloping horses. Besides the Indian battle, the climax and the final face-off between Craden and Burke are likewise quite violent by 1950s standards.
Video & Audio
Part of Warner Home Video's movie on demand program, billed under the "Warner Archive Collection" banner, Lone Star is presented in its original full-frame format and looks terrific, with extremely good detail, contrast, and inky blacks throughout. The mono audio is likewise fine. There are no alternate audio or subtitle options and the disc is region-free. The only Extra Feature is a coming attractions trailer, but it's hosted by Gable himself.
Not great but entertaining and expertly made, Lone Star is Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.