Big Jim Cole had come to the rim of Hell...and nobody but nobody was going to push him over!
Family films just don't have that caliber of taglines anymore; then again, Joseph Pevney's The Night of the Grizzly (1966) isn't your average family film. This big-sky adventure follows former lawman "Big" Jim Cole (Clint Walker, man's man) and his family---wife Angela (Martha Hyer), children Charlie (Kevin Brodie) and Gypsy (Victoria Meyerink), niece Meg (Candy Moore, who didn't return to movies until Raging Bull), and buddy Sam Potts (Don Haggerty)---on the trail to Wyoming, where they've inherited a huge ranch. There are problems almost immediately: Jim finds out there's still $500 owed on the property (plus interest), which wipes out most of their life savings...and worse yet, the ranch house is falling apart at the seams. But it's their land now and Jim's eager to work on it, especially since he's leaving old problems like Cass Dowdy (Leo Gordon) in prison back East.
More problems arise soon enough: local rancher Jed Curry (Keenan Wynn) owned that land years ago before losing it in a poker game and, along with his obnoxious sons Tad (Ron Ely) and Cal (Sammy Jackson, but not the one you're thinking of), will stop at almost nothing to get it back. And, as it turns out, there's a third party who's managed to stake a claim on Jim's ranch: "Satan", a hulking 1,500-pound bear who roams the surrounding wilderness and kills livestock just for fun. Satan is, of course, the "Grizzly" in Night of the Grizzly but, while it inevitably spirals into a bloody showdown of man vs. beast, its overall focus lies as much on Jim's other problems as the big, brown one with claws and teeth. While the film certainly spins its wheels on more than a few occasions, there's enough meat here to make The Night of the Grizzly an enjoyable family adventure that's every bit as charmingly quaint as you'd expect from a 50 year-old production about good old-fashioned values with a Western backdrop.
Aside from its rough-and-rowdy atmosphere---great one-liners, a few good fistfights, and of course the bear hunting---there's plenty more to like about The Night of the Grizzly, not the least of which are a handful of fun supporting performances. The kids do fine work...especially five year-old Victoria Meyerink as Gypsy, who shares a few memorable scenes with likable loafer Hank (Jack Elam). Nancy Kulp (of The Beverly Hillbillies fame) also hits her mark as Wilhelmina "Bill" Peterson, a affable store owner who's attracted to the much older Sam Potts. Speaking of which, Haggerty does a reliably decent job as the unofficial Cole "grandpa" figure and, aside from a third-act speech that predictably leads to bad news for Potts, he's a welcome presence until then.
Overall, The Night of the Grizzly is largely remembered as a prominent family staple during the 1970s, just after the long-running Gunsmoke, Clint Walker's Cheyenne, and other Western productions were finally starting to fade from the pop culture landscape. Made as part of Clint Walker's two-picture deal with Paramount (the other being 1965's None But the Brave with Frank Sinatra, who also directed), The Night of the Grizzly is patchy at times but still plenty of fun overall, whether you're a die-hard fan who enjoyed it as a kid or an open-minded newcomer. Olive Films continues the film's memory with their second Blu-ray: their earlier 2012 disc was decent enough, but this new "Signature" edition offers a modest upgrade in just about every department.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this crisp 1080p transfer of The Night of the Grizzly looks good on Blu-ray; it's certainly a modest step up from Olive's own 2012 disc. Though it doesn't appear to use different source elements than that earlier Blu-ray, overall contrast levels and shadow/light details appear more refined and well-balanced. Image detail and textures are strong, the film's earthy color palette looks great (if not a bit dull at times), and the grain structure is represented very well from start to finish, which results in an extremely natural and clean appearance. No obvious digital imperfections or manipulation---compression artifacts, interlacing, excessive noise reduction, etc.---could be spotted along the way, with my only mild complaints being a light to moderate amount of dirt and debris on occasion, as well as a handful of under-lit scenes and day-for-night shots that still look pretty rough. Overall, though, I can't imagine The Night of the Grizzly looking much better on Blu-ray than it does here (short of a full restoration, mind you), so die-hard fans and newcomers alike should be pleased with the modest upgrade.
DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
The Night of the Grizzly comes through cleanly in DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio, which preserves its mono mix while faithfully reproducing the dialogue and Leith Stevens' original score. There's some modest depth at times but this is undoubtedly a thin presentation from start to finish, with some obvious source-related problems just before the 45-minute mark (this was present on earlier releases and isn't genuinely bothersome). But overall, genre fans and newcomers alike won't find much to complain about with this lossless audio treatment. Optional English subtitles are included during the film, an overdue but welcome standard for Olive Blu-rays.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The interface includes options for chapter access, subtitles, and bonus features. Loading time is fast with no trailers or advertisements beforehand, aside from the company logo. Unlike standard Olive releases, this "Signature" line is housed in a clear keepcase with classier-than-usual cover artwork, a matching slipsleeve, and an included Booklet
with an essay by C. Courtney Joyner.
I really enjoyed the extras here, as they combine just the right amount of nostalgia with light but interesting production stories (even if most of them aren't terribly in-depth). The main attraction---and apparently exclusive to this Blu-ray- is a new feature-length Audio Commentary
with film historian Toby Roan, who goes into detail about the film's development, shooting locations, initial release, and lasting popularly, as well as plenty of comments about the cast and crew's body of work. This is an entertaining and informative session, and one that will be of great interest to those who grew up watching The Night of the Grizzly
Two vintage odds and ends are also here: "The Night of the Grizzly World Premiere Footage" (7 minutes) serves up a few nostalgic newsreel scenes from the film's star-studded 1966 opening in Palm Springs and a themed party at The Tennis Club, while the longer "At Home with Clint Walker and His Home Gymnasium" (12 minutes) is a candid vintage interview at the star's den that will make any man feel grossly inadequate in comparison. He welded his own gym equipment and hunted sharks, you guys.
We also get one welcome repeat: "The Legend of Big Jim Cole" (27 minutes, from Olive's 2012 Blu-ray), an enjoyable interview with a much older Clint Walker who reminisces about the film and what it meant to him. Finally, an onscreen reprint of C. Courtney Joyner's booklet essay, "Blood on the Claw: How Cheyenne Bodie Became a Movie Star", is also here to page through.
The Night of the Grizzly is far from great...but it's still pretty fun, and I'd imagine that open-minded newcomers will fall for its rough-and-tumble charms as well. Popular during the 1970s as a family staple, this "family film with teeth" serves up a mix of comedy, drama, and action that hasn't so much aged well as remained frozen in time. Olive Films continues to preserve its memory with their second Blu-ray: this "Signature" edition improves upon their 2012 disc in every department with a tweaked A/V presentation, nice packaging, and a handful of old and new bonus features that really round out the "time capsule" experience quite well. It's firmly Recommended to newcomers, and even more so for anyone with fond memories of The Night of the Grizzly.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.