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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Legends of the West - Volume 3 (33 Movies)
Legends of the West - Volume 3 (33 Movies)
Platinum // Unrated // January 3, 2006
List Price: $9.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted July 23, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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With its $9.95 suggested retail price versus 33 feature-length films spread over 38 hours on eight discs, Legends of the West, Volume 3 is a remarkable buy - this despite the fact that about one-quarter of these presumed public domain Westerns are presented in unwatchable transfers while the rest vary greatly in terms of video/audio, from a notch below fair to barely tolerable. What it boils down to is one's personal tolerance for substandard presentation. For this reviewer, the pre-widescreen era movies, those (mostly) B-Westerns made prior to 1953, come off best because they avoid the horrible panning-and-scanning, lackadaisical dubbing and (in some cases) cuts inflicted on European Westerns of the 1960s and '70s, though even these earlier movies are in some cases sourced from cut reissue prints, color productions presented here in black and white, etc.

If you can get past these considerable shortcomings, there are some fiendishly rare movies here in the sense that many were produced and distributed by independent companies that must have gone belly-up 60, 70 years ago. Where do the original negatives for such obscurities as Without Honor (1932), Trouble in Texas (1937), and Sunset Carson Rides Again (1948) reside today, if they exist at all? Have their original nitrate camera negatives dissolved into vinegary goop or gone up in flames? Or are they perhaps they're still sitting on a shelf somewhere, gathering dust and unclaimed by disinterested big studio libraries. It's not much of a stretch to say that, were it not for their marginal value as PD fodder, many of these films might be lost forever.

Looking at Legends of the West, Volume 3, its main value for this reviewer is its broad sampling of B-Western stars. Though names like Tex Ritter, Harry Carey, Hoot Gibson, and Ken Maynard are somewhat familiar, the vast majority of today's movie fans - even among those who regularly watch the A-list Westerns of John Ford, Howard Hawks, Sam Peckinpah, and Sergio Leone - likely have never seen these occasionally interesting Bs. As with Legends of the West, Volume 1 (you did read that review, didn't you?) I sat through about a third of this volume's titles, sampling the rest to gauge the quality of their transfers and print sources. The DVDs aren't labeled any particular way, but are generally grouped by star, era, or country of origin. Here's the breakdown, noting the original releasing company and cast, along with a word or two about the transfer of each film:

 

Disc 1: TV Westerns and, Incongruously, Sunset Carson Rides Again

The Gunfighters (Jeff King Productions, 1987) with Art Hindle, Reiner Schone, Anthony Addabbo, and George Kennedy. An undistinguished TV movie shot in Alberta, Canada, that apparently was never properly copyright protected. Two brothers working their dream ranch come up against Bad Deke Turner (Kennedy) and his thugs in this routine oater, which features Will Sampson (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The White Buffalo) in a small part, his last screen role. The newest title in the collection, the full-frame transfer is adequate, above average by PD standards. Video Rating: (** 1/2)

Yuma (Aaron Spelling Productions, 1971) with Clint Walker, Barry Sullivan, Kathryn Hays, Edgar Buchanan, Morgan Woodward, Peter Mark Richman, Bruce Glover. Another TV movie, this one benefits from its cast of genre veterans and seasoned character players, and the sure hand of Ted Post, fresh off several high-profile theatrical movies (Hang 'Em High, Beneath the Planet of the Apes). The story however, about a marshal (Walker) sent to clean up a lawless Western town, has been done a thousand times before. The full frame transfer is adequate, though there is a "video framing" issue at the very top of the image which is mildly distracting. Video Rating; (**)

The Wackiest Wagon Train in the West (Topar Films, 1976) with Bob Denver, Forrest Tucker, Ivor Francis, Jeannine Riley, Lori Sanders, Lynn Wood. This is nothing more than a compilation of three (and perhaps parts of four) episodes from the 1973 sitcom "Dusty's Trail," which didn't even last one full season. Retooled here for children's matinees, the laugh-track has been removed but otherwise it's the same old show, a blatant reworking by creator Sherwood Schwartz of his earlier triumph, "Gilligan's Island," with seven stranded castaways lost in the wild west. (Unlike the earlier success there was not, alas, no "Rescue from Dusty's Trail" reunion movie.) Of interest only to watch the degree in which it grafts absolutely every component of "Gilligan's Island" to its Western setting. Like PD releases of the TV show, this looks overly grainy with weak sound, but is watchable. Video Rating: (**)

Sunset Carson Rides Again (Astor, 1948) with Sunset Carson (Winifred Harrison), Al Terry, Pat Starling, Dan White. Incredibly cheap film shot in 16mm and released in 35mm Cinecolor, the film stars troubled former Republic star Carson as a cowpoke trying raise money to build a new school and eventually he stages a prizefight. Threadbare even by B-Western standards, the image is soft but the color is pretty good, despite some ancient videotape imperfections. Video Rating: (**)


 

Disc 2: '70s Westerns and, Again Incongruously, 1942's American Empire

American Empire (Paramount, 1942) with Richard Dix, Leo Carrillo, Preston Foster, Frances Gifford, Guinn Williams, Cliff Edwards. Produced by Harry "Pop" Sherman near the height of his "Hopalong Cassidy" series, the film is a not-bad mini-epic about Dix and Foster building a cattle empire in post-Civil War Texas. The print sourced looks okay, but is worn and washed out, looking very much like the way old Hollywood movies used to look when they aired in syndication back in the 1970s. Video Rating: (**)

The Marshal of Madrid (20th Century-Fox/David Gerber Productions, 1973) with Glenn Ford, James Gregory, Bobby Darin, Linda Cristal, Edgar Buchanan. Another TV movie, this compiled from two episodes of the 1971 series Cade's County: "Crisscross" and "A Gun for Billy," both directed by Richard Donner, soon to move on to bigger and better things. Ford stars as a sheriff in present-day Madrid County, somewhere in the American Southwest. I had no idea what this one was at first, and watching the opening scene, with a lone cowboy watching a modern-day truck driving down the highway, I was half-expecting something like Lonely Are the Brave - until the cowboy whipped out a bazooka and blew-up the vehicle. Full frame presentation isn't half-bad. Video Rating: (**1/2)

The Hanged Man (Bing Crosby Productions, 1974) with Steve Forrest, Dean Jagger, Will Geer, Barbara Luna, Cameron Mitchell. Yet another telefilm that suspiciously plays like an unsold pilot for a series (and an obvious variation on Kung Fu, popular at the time), has Forrest as a gunfighter who survives his own hanging only to discover that he can now read people's minds! He decides to change his ways and use his extraordinary powers to help others. Feh. Film sourced is faded with scads of dirt Video Rating: (* 1/2)

Sam Cade (20th Century-Fox/David Gerber Productions, 1972) with Glenn Ford, Darren McGavin, Ed Asner, Shelley Fabares, Ed Flanders, Myron Healey, Loretta Swit. Sam Cade (Ford) is back for another telefilm compiled from two more episodes of the failed but interesting series: the pilot film, "Homecoming," directed by Marvin Chomsky, and "The Fake," directed by Leo Penn. (Donner is erroneously credited as co-director, however. Picture quality is okay. Video Rating: (**1/2)


 

Discs 3: Slumming Stars, 1969-1977

Joshua (Lone Star, 1976) with Fred Williamson, Calvin Bartlett, Brenda Venus, Isela Vega, Bud Stout. A black Civil War veteran (Williamson, who also wrote the script) returns home only to find that his mother has been murdered by white thugs and becomes a bounty hunter to track them down. Filmed in Todd-AO 35, the transfer is pretty good, actually, in 4:3 letterboxed format and seems to be the complete, 82-minute, R-rated version. Video Rating: (** 1/2)

Kid Vengeance (Cannon, 1977) with Lee Van Cleef, Jim Brown, Leif Garrett, Glynnis O'Connor, John Marley. Crummy, unpleasant Italian-Israeli-American co-production with some terrible acting from the supporting cast has teen Garrett teaming up with a prospector Jim Brown to track down villain Van Cleef, who murdered the former's father and stole the latter's gold. Shot for 1.85:1 cropping, the transfer crops a bit off the sides and the image soft. Video Rating: (**)

Four Rode Out (Sagittarius Productions, 1971) with Sue Lyon, Pernell Roberts, Julian Mateos, Leslie Nielsen, Janis Ian. Bottom of the barrel Spanish-U.S. co-production with a decidedly odd mix of talent (see above) from prolific TV writer/producer Richard Landau. A U.S. marshal (Roberts, who must really have regretted leaving Bonanza about now) is on the trail of a Mexican bandit. Though apparently shot for 1.85:1 cropping, this full-frame transfer looks worse than most panned-and-scanned-from-Techniscope spaghettis, with faded color, a super-soft image and hissy sound. Video Rating: (*)

Cry Blood, Apache (Bronco Films, 1970) with Jody McCrea, Joel McCrea, Marie Gahva, Jack Starrett, Don Henley. Ol' "Deadhead" (Jody McCrea) from the Beach Party movies is one in a party of five thugs who massacre an Apache camp for their gold. Extremely cheap and unpleasant film is of interest solely for the appearance of Jody's father: the great, underrated Joel McCrea (Ride the High Country), who plays Jody's character as an old man. Shot for 1.85:1 cropping, the full-frame presentation looks quite good; too bad the movie's a stinker. Video Rating: (***)


 

Disc 4: Mix and Match

White Comanche (International Producers Corp., 1968) with William Shatner, Joseph Cotton, Rosanna Yanni, Perla Cristal. A Spanish production released there as Comanche blanco, star William Shatner shot this between seasons on Star Trek and his dual role as twin half-breeds - one good, the other evil is the only reason to watch this otherwise terrible film. The actor's famously hesitant delivery is on overdrive, especially as evil twin Notah, who makes dramatic pauses between every other word! Shot in 'scope (not 1.66:1, as the IMDb erroneously reports), this panned-and-scanned atrocity is appallingly bad. In the opening scene, Good Guy Shatner talks to an Indian woman while all the audience gets to see is a horse's ass! Even worse is the ancient video master used for the transfer, which goes haywire several times to the point where it's impossible to tell what's happening onscreen. Video Rating: (no stars!) 

The American West of John Ford (CBS Television, 1971) with John Ford, John Wayne, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Andy Devine. One of the highlights of this set, this neatly organized, well-written television documentary about genre master John Ford offers clips from many of Ford's best movies, but the real reason to watch this is for the (largely unscripted) scenes of Ford, ailing but still amusingly cantankerous, reminiscing with Wayne, Stewart and Fonda. With Wayne they recreate shooting a sequence at Monument Valley, while with Stewart and Fonda Ford tools around what used to be the 20th Century-Fox backlot, but what was fast becoming the Century City Mall. There's even a gag appearance by Andy Devine. Wonderful stuff. The transfer isn't the best, but the material is worth the price of the set for this 52-minute special alone. Video Rating: (**)

Kentucky Rifle (Howco, 1956) with Chill Wills, Lance Fuller, Cathy Downs, Sterling Holloway, Henry Hull, Jeanne Cagney, I Stanford Jolley. Awful, faded color and Vasquez Rocks locations dominate this lackluster Western starring that great Western team of Wills and Fuller, trying to hold onto their Kentucky rifles despite Indian attacks as their wagon train crosses the west. A full frame transfer of a movie intended for 1.85:1 projection. Video Rating: (* 1/2)

Bells of San Angelo (Republic, 1947) with Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Andy Devine, John McGuire, Dave Sharpe, Frtiz Leiber, Hank Patterson. I was looking forward to this latter-day Roy Rogers movie, the first and considered one of the best films from Roy's later, more (relatively) "hard-edged" period. Unfortunately, while the movie runs 75 minutes and thus isn't the 54-minute TV version, the print is black and white, though the film was shot in Trucolor. Video Rating: (* 1/2)


 

Disc 5: B-Western Stars

Trouble in Texas (Grand National Pictures, 1937) with Tex Ritter, Rita Hayworth, Yakima Canutt, Charles King, Glenn Strange, White Flash (Tex's horse).Considered one of singer Ritter's best B's, this obscurity is notable for also starring Rita Hayworth, on the cusp of stardom and (for almost the last time) still billed under her real name, Rita Cansino. Tex is looking into the serial killings of rodeo stars stabbed with poisoned needles. This is reissue print, which gives the actress much more prominent billing. The audio is hissy and thin, and the film, directed by Robert N. Bradbury (the father of another cowboy star, Bob Steele), looks much older than it is, but otherwise is okay. Video Rating: (**) 

Call the Mesquiteers (Republic, 1938) with Robert Livingston, Ray "Crash" Corrigan, Max Terhune, Lynne Roberts, Earle Hodgins, Flash the Dog, Elmer the Dummy. A Western variation of The Three Musketeers (that, at a career low-point, in one incarnation featured John Wayne) targeting younger audiences, this entry has the trio tracking down, uh, silk thieves (!). Transfer is quite good for such things. Video Rating: (** 1/2)

Without Honor (States Rights Independent Exchanges, 1932) with Harry Carey (Sr.), Mae Busch, Gibson Gowland, Mary Jane Irving, Ed Brady. Another real diamond in the rough. Although Harry Carey is remembered today for his supporting roles in movies of the late '30s until his death in 1947 (in such films as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Red River, etc.), he was the "bright star of the early western sky," as John Ford's dedication to Carey in Three Godfathers reads. (John Wayne likewise regarded Carey Sr. as the greatest of all Western movie stars.) It's easy to see why. He has Wayne's presence and the naturalness of Spencer Tracy. Though low-budget, Without Honor has a surprisingly strong script, with Carey a shady gambler who joins the Texas Rangers after his younger, ranger brother is murdered. Two other silent stars also appear: Greed's Gibson Gowland and Mae Busch, better remembered today for her shrewish housewife roles in Laurel and Hardy comedies. A real find. The video is on the dark side, but watchable. Video Rating: (**)

Stampede (Columbia, 1936) with Charles Starrett, Finis Barton, J.P. McGowan, LeStrange Millman (!). Okay if overly familiar B-filler from Columbia and starring Starrett as yet another cowboy out to find his brother's murderer. Directed by serial master Ford Beebe, the transfer on this one is fairly good - except for a strange green stick-like thing hovering near the frame's upper-left corner. Video Rating: (** 1/2)


 

Disc 6: Miscellany

The Buckskin Lady (United Artists, 1957) with Patricia Medina, Richard Denning, Gerald Mohr, Henry Hull, Hank Worden, John Dierkes. A 66-minute bottom-of-the-bill programmer shot for 1.85:1 framing, its full-frame presentation is badly framed, with edges visible on three of four sides. It's tagline is more exciting than anything in the film: "The Hell-Hot Story Of A Hell-Bent Dancehall Dame Who Climbed To The Top ...Bullet By Bullet ...Man By Man!." Video Rating: (* 1/2)

The Light of the Western Stars (Paramount, 1940) with Victor Jory, Russell Hayden, Morris Ankrum, Noah Beery, Jr., Tom Tyler, Alan Ladd. Another non-Hoppy Western from Harry "Pop" Sherman with many of the same in-front-of and behind-the-scenes personnel associated with the Cassidy films: director Lesley Selander, DP Russell Harlan, etc. This one has a great cast and is based on a Zane Grey novel, but undone by a video transfer that has weird video noise, like running marquee lights, at the top of the frame, so unless you want to tape a piece of black cloth across the top of your TV screen, you're outta luck. Video Rating: (*)

Frontier Outlaws (PRC, 1944) with Buster Crabbe, Al "Fuzzy" St. John, Frances Gladwin, Marin Sais, Kermit Maynard, Falcon and The Kid Rides Again (PRC, 1943) with Crabbe, St. John, Iris Meredith, Glenn Strange. I Stanford Jolley. When on The Brady Bunch young Bobby Brady developed a misguided hero-worship for Billy the Kid, I guess he must have been watching these cheap but not disagreeable PRC programmers starring Buster Crabbe. He ain't no outlaw, just misunderstood. Crabbe started the series in 1941, soon after hanging up his ray gun as Flash Gordon, and was soon cranking out seven or eight a year. Somebody must have complained, because around the middle of 1943 Billy the Kid became Billy Carson (he's the kid in The Kid Rides Again, Carson in Frontier Outlaws). St. John is a real Poverty Row Gabby Hayes, but Crabbe's agreeable presence keeps it tolerable. The video/audio quality of these is about average by PD standards. Video Rating: (**)


 

Disc 7: Potpourri

Cavalcade of the West (Diversion Pictures, 1936) with Hoot Gibson, Rex Lease, Marion Shilling, Adam Goodman. Corny Western about two brothers, separated at childhood after their family is attacked by gangsters while crossing the west, one of whom (Gibson) becomes a pony express rider, while the other (Lease) becomes an outlaw. Interesting to see silent star Gibson, however. The picture is okay, the sound is awfully hissy, though. Video Rating: (**)

Death Rides the Range (Colony Pictures, 1939) with Ken Maynard, Fay McKenzie, Ralph Peters, Julian Rivero, Charles King, Tarzan (Ken's horse). Starring famously disagreeable Western star Maynard, supposedly the most unpleasant B-Western actor of all-time, onscreen he's not much of an actor, and the film features the lamest stuntwork this reviewer has ever seen. Every time there's a fight, Ken's double rigidly keeps his back to the camera at all times! Story has Ken and his pals stumbling upon foreign spies after a cave full of helium they want to use to power their country's dirigibles! The picture goes in and out between too dark and too bright. Video Rating: (* 1/2)

Rebellion (Crescent Pictures Corp., 1936) with Tom Keene, Rita Hayworth, Duncan Renaldo, Gino Corrado, Jack Ingram, Theodore Lorch. Rita's back ("I am what you call ready to explode!"), this time opposite Tom Keene, in a story about trouble between Americans in California just prior to statehood and the Spanish they want to kick back across the border into Mexico. Once again, the audio-video quality is akin to something that used to run at 3:25 am on your local UHF channel. Video Rating: (**)

Rawhide Rangers (Universal, 1941) with Johnny Mack Brown, Fuzzy Knight, Kathryn Adams, Al Bridge, Frank Shannon. A reissue print (from distrib Commonwealth) full of typical Universal B-action with a story that yet again recycles the murdered brother storyline. Picture quality very good all things considered. Video Rating: (***)


 


Disc 8: John Wayne, Pre-Stagecoach

The Trail Beyond (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934) with John Wayne, Verna Hillie, Noah Berry Sr., Noah Berry, Jr., Eddie Parker. / Riders of Destiny (Lone Star/Monogram, 1933) with John Wayne, Cecilia Parker, Forrest Taylor, George "Gabby" Hayes, Heinie Conklin, Yakima Canutt. / West of the Divide (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934) with John Wayne, Virginia Brown Faire, Gabby Hayes, Yakima Canutt, Lloyd Whitlock. / Texas Terror (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934) with John Wayne, Lucile Browne, LeRoy Mason, Gabby hayes, John Ince. / Winds of the Wasteland (Republic, 1936) with John Wayne, Phyllis Cerf, Lew Kelly, Douglas Cosgrove, Jon Hall.

More substandard, ultra-cheap John Wayne pictures before he got out of his low-end B-movie rut. The best of these is the first, The Trail Beyond, fun for its unusually good use of Big Bear and Three Rivers locations, to see Noah Berrys senior and junior together in a film, and for its excellent stuntwork supervised by Yakima Canutt, who nearly falls on his face doubling for Wayne. The Trail Beyond also has by Lone Star standards the best video transfer; the other titles look pretty awful, though the single Republic offering here looks okay. Overall Video Rating (**)

Video & Audio

See above for comments on individual titles. All eight discs are single-sided and dual-layered, but the bit-rate is poor and, needless to say, these aren't progressive transfers, so line-doublers and the like are a big plus when watching these on big monitors. Everything is mono, and acceptable except where noted. Likewise, there are no alternate audio or subtitle options on anything, and no Extra Features.

Parting Thoughts

Volume Three of Legends of the West is worth its low, low price, if only for the John Ford documentary, the Harry Carey and Tex Ritter films, The Trail Beyond, and maybe the two "Sam Cade" TV films. Those with a perverse curiosity will find some of the more obscure pictures worth looking at as well. (Marginally) Recommended.

Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel. His audio commentary for Invasion of Astro Monster is now available.

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