"Revenge Westerns" were nothing new by the 1970s, but that didn't stop Edwin Sherin's Valdez is Coming (1971) from making the most of its painfully predictable premise. Starring big-screen icon Burt Lancaster as aging Mexican-American constable Bob Valdez (perhaps the biggest hurdle for modern audiences to overcome), this well-paced 90-minute thriller serves up slightly more than what doubters might be expecting. Crafted from separate screenplays by Roland Kibbee and David Rayfiel -- which were based on Elmore Leonard's source novel, released less than a year earlier -- with guidance from Lancaster during development and behind the camera, it's a solid example of "less is more".
Since our title character is featured so prominently in Valdez is Coming -- even when he's not on screen, he's often talked about -- it's obvious that Burt Lancaster's performance is hugely important to the film's effectiveness. Not surprisingly, Lancaster's commanding presence carries much of Valdez is Coming's emotional weight: he's humiliated and virtually left for dead after asking wealthy rancher Frank Tanner (Jon Cypher) to reimburse the Native American widow of a black man killed in self-defense during a botched raid. Tanner and his posse, which include the deadly El Segundo (Barton Heyman) and R.L. Davis (Richard Jordan), would rather let Valdez rot in the desert than fork over a measly $200...but when he survives the near-death experience, Valdez comes looking for revenge with his trusty buffalo gun.
The real meat of Valdez is Coming begins early, during its still-relevant setup of a black man killed for foolish reasons: it gives Valdez plenty of well-earned motivation that doesn't feel as manipulative as it likely reads on paper. A few small subplots attempt to mix in more flavor, but not much: Susan Clark -- who portrays "Gay Erin", Tanner's girlfriend and apparent bride-to-be -- brings little to her role besides for red hair and a blank stare, and Erin's revelation about the death of her former husband feels more like a distraction than anything else. In any case, this film doesn't need the extra help: divided almost neatly in half, it puts almost everything in place within 45 minutes and lets Valdez take the reins from there on out. Ironically enough, the offbeat but strangely satisfying non-ending provides our first genuine sigh of relief amidst all the second-half chaos, and Valdez is Coming smartly exits before answering too many questions.
Don't get me wrong: Valdez is Coming is far from a perfect film, and it wasn't even the most impressive Burt Lancaster Western released that year -- that honor goes to the outstanding Lawman, which came out less than a month earlier. But it's still an enjoyable time at the movies due to the excellent central performance, capable direction (even if Lancaster probably did just as much as Edwin Sherin behind the camera), and a strong, socially-relevant backbone that helps it stand up a little taller today. Kino's new Blu-ray, like so many others in their growing library of classic Westerns, offers a solid A/V improvement over the old MGM DVD and even a new audio commentary for good measure.
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio (MGM's 2006 DVD was 1.66:1, which is probably the more accurate framing during the film's theatrical release), this 1080p transfer of Valdez is Coming looks very good and certainly better than anything standard definition can achieve. Image detail is generally strong with crisp textures, especially during the film's many brightly-lit outdoor sequences. Dirt, debris, and other mild instances print damage can be spotted along the way (they're more obvious during dimly-lit and nighttime sequences), but the good compression and relatively high bit rate doesn't lead to any obvious artifacts. Colors are earthy and not particularly vivid -- possibly by design, or due to the film stock -- but that's almost expected within the genre. This is another fine-looking disc from Kino that represents a solid but not substantial leap over MGM's existing DVD, even if similar or identical source elements were used.
DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
The audio is presented in its DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (split mono) format with a pleasing amount of depth and punch during action sequences. Dialogue and background effects are adequately balanced and don't fight for attention, with a solid dynamic range that even sounds good at the high end. Overall, this is an impressive track that makes Valdez is Coming sound a few years younger than it really is. Dialogue is crisp and clear as mentioned earlier, but it's nice to see optional English SDH subtitles during the main feature; they're small, but at least set within the image frame.
Menu Design & Packaging
Kino's interface is smooth and simple, with well-organized content and a poster-themed front cover (similar to the one below left). The 91-minute film is divided into a modest eight chapters. This one-disc package arrives in a standard keepcase with plain gray disc art and a promotional booklet highlighting several dozen recent Kino titles.
The main extra is a new Audio Commentary
with filmmaker Jim Hemphill. Topics of discussion include Burt Lancaster's relationship with John Frankenheimer and Sydney Pollack, Lancaster's films during the late 1960s and his directorial work, Valdez is Coming
's development, the screenwriting process, the decline of the Western during the 1970s, Lancaster's hand in casting and development, the relationship between the star and first-time director, training to be a Mexican, differences between the movie and book, the open ending, and more. It sounds good on paper, but this is easily one of the least focused audio commentaries I've heard in quite some time: almost 15 minutes go by before Hemphill even talks at any length about Valdez is Coming
(from them on, it's just as spotty) and he even leaves five minutes before the end credits. The rest of the time, he just drifts back to cast/crew careers and movies he likes. I guess it's passable if you're looking to learn more about the genre as a whole, but I was really disappointed with this commentary.
Also included is the rough-and-tough Theatrical Trailer for Valdez is Coming (2:30), as well as other Westerns in Kino's library including The Scalphunters, Billy Two Hats, Monte Walsh, The White Buffalo, and Barquero.
Although its "honorable man seeks revenge" plot is almost painfully generic and predictable, Valdez is Coming (based on Elmore Leonard's 1970 novel, published less than a year before filming wrapped) gets by on Burt Lancaster's outstanding lead performance, a few memorable supporting characters, and steady direction by first-timer Edwin Sherin. It's paced quite nicely and never drags along the way; like its central character, Valdez is Coming moves deliberately and stays on a steady path. It was also quite socially progressive in its day, another reason the film holds up better than most. Kino's Blu-ray is a passable upgrade of the old MGM disc; though it uses similar elements, the A/V boost is noticeable but I didn't care for the new commentary all that much. It's still Recommended for fans and first-timers alike.
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.