On the surface, Duel At Diablo looks like the kind of movie that subconsciously inspired Blazing Saddles, what with its African American costar playing against a popular Caucasian one, set in the West and battling seemingly insurmountable odds. Certainly, I do not know of any connection or tangible thread to the two films, but in the case of the former, there would appear to be some interesting components here that are worth exploring.
From the Marvin Albert novel "Apache Rising," Albert adapted a screenplay with the help of Michael Grilikhes, and Ralph Nelson (Lilies of the Field) directed. Jess (James Garner, The Notebook) is a scout for a transport of Army munitions, but he is also trying to find Ellen (Bibi Andersson, The Seventh Seal), who is married to Willard (Dennis Weaver, McCloud). Ellen was kidnapped by the Apaches in the past and may be with them again. Along for the ride to accompany the transport is Toller (Sidney Poitier, In the Heat of The Night), an ex-Cavalryman and helps to break in horses for the transport and wants to ensure he gets payment for the work.
Having been exposed little to Garner's work in the years since Maverick made him a familiar face (The Great Escape aside), his first foray back into Westerns finds Garner in a western with a somewhat darker bent, though not completely dire. In addition, in Jess, there is a slightly dire tinge but Garner is still largely untarnished by the perceived baddie. If anything, Willard is slightly more unsavory and Weaver plays him as such.
Skipping over Poitier for a moment, can we talk about how a Swedish woman whose presence was more known in Bergman films than American westerns, she avails herself just fine as Ellen, juggling scenes with Weaver and Garner with ease whilst moving her character's story forward. Poitier is nice to see here as Toller, and Toller's time as a Buffalo Soldier gets the whole awkwardness of an African American in the middle of Utah helping a munitions transport get from one place to the other.
While Duel At Diablo is notable for pairing a popular face in Garner with a presumed fresher and somewhat more historically significant face in Poitier, as far as its story goes, there is nothing remarkable or memorable about it. There is some initial resistance from the key parties about Toller's introduction, but the more the journey goes along, the more a mutual respect or even admiration, grows. Kind of like Running Scared, if Gregory Hines was a bit more of a badass. There are also attempts to make this Western feel modern, to the point of a second act song that sounds a little bit on the pop side of things. But this quibble in minor if anything.
While Duel At Diablo shows us some of what became when it comes to Blazing Saddles even if it is not said, it should be said that while James Garner and Sidney Poitier are part of a solid cast, the story itself is not entirely memorable for any reason, other than their involvement in it. I can honestly say I have checked off the "see Sidney Poitier in a Western" box off the movie bucket list with little regret, even if Sidney Poitier in a Western is pretty much what you would expect.
I'm going to presume that Kino Lorber used the same information on the back cover for the standard and high definition discs, as Duel At Diablo is listed as having a 1.66:1 "anamorphic" transfer. However, the AVC encode that graces the Blu-ray for this is not bad. Colors and flesh tones are reproduced as accurately as can be and are devoid of saturation problems. Film grain is present during viewing, and there appears to be some DNR plaguing the film, but it is not a complete distraction. Overall, the disc looks decent for the near half-century old source material.
Kino Lorber provides a one-channel DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track for the film is not bad. Dialogue is a touch inconsistent, but the film's score sound clear in the front of the theater. The soundtrack is free of mosquito noise, hissing or chirping and is somewhat robust in the room I was listening to it in. Solid work on this disc that I had little expectation of.
Just a trailer (3:08) and little else.
It is nice to see Duel At Diablo if nothing else because it gives you a chance to see two actors you have not seen together in a movie before…in this movie. However, in a way the film tends to value the casting more than the story, which is average. Subsequently, one waits for something cool to happen and it never seems to. Technically, the disc looks and sounds fine, but has virtually no extras to go along with it. It absolutely is worth seeing from the perspective of seeing a long-forgotten film from Garner and Poitier, but otherwise is as average as average gets.