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Comes a Horseman
Comes a Horseman is a western-drama directed by acclaimed filmmaker Alan J. Pakula (All the President's Men). The film is about struggles faced on a cattle ranch as competing business and oil companies try to take over the ranch. The film was produced by Gene Kirkwood (Rocky, New York, New York) and Dan Paulson (Catchfire, Passenger 57).
Ella Connors (Jane Fonda) is a young woman who becomes the primary rancher of a farm after her father passes away. She takes care of the cattle herd herself but is having some difficulty maintaining it alone. She ends up with the help of Frank 'Buck' Athearn (James Caan), who works for her at the ranch. It isn't long before she finds herself facing newfound struggles as Jacob J.W. Ewing (Jason Robards), a wealthy and corrupt rancher (who used to be her lover), tries to take it all away from her. Can Ella save the cattle ranch or will she lose to the power of Ewing and the big oil companies who seek their own control of the ranch?
From a production standpoint, Comes a Horseman manages to impress on some levels. There are certainly some commendable aspects to the production aesthetic that helps this to be a well-produced film. Production designs by George Jenkins (All the President's Men, Presumed Innocent) are noteworthy. The ranch and the outdoors environment are convincing for establishing the setting and time-period of the story.
The costumes designed by Luster Bayless (Tom Horn) convey the Western setting and outdoor environment well-enough. While these are somewhat standard Western costumes, the effort is something that aids the film suitably. The music score composed by Michael Small (Klute, Marathon Man) isn't as memorable for a western score but does add some moments of excitement on occasion. It's certainly a decent effort that feels suitable.
Perhaps the best thing about the film is the cinematography by Gordon Willis (The Godfather, The Godfather: Part 2, Annie Hall). From the long outdoor shot's and the majestic scope, the cinematography impresses. This is a beautifully filmed effort. The use of color and the style of cinematography on this project gives it a romantic and rustic look which is more impressive than just about any other thing on this film.
Written by Dennis Lynton Clark (In Pursuit of Honor), Comes a Horseman is unsuccessful as a story. While the production team did some commendable work behind the scenes, the story by Clark is full of clichés of the western genre. The character's feel paper-thin and uninvolving in their development. The whole film is primarily built around a land dispute and the struggles out in the west. The way it is handled feels uninspired. The film drags along with weak storytelling.
Directed by Alan J. Pakula (Sophie's Choice), Comes a Horseman is commendably directed but it could have been significantly better overall. The pacing is altogether slow (even for a western) and it just feels too disjointed. The performances by Jane Fonda and James Caan are strong but supporting actors in this film deliver largely over-the-top and uninspired performances that fail to add to the filmmaking. If it weren't for Fonda's strong turn and some impeccable production aspects, Comes a Horseman wouldn't be worth watching at all.
Comes a Horseman is a beautifully shot film by the great Gordon Willis. Willis is an excellent cinematographer (certainly one of the best cinema has ever had). Unfortunately, the Blu-ray release has an underwhelming presentation. Though the film is presented in 1080p high definition in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen, the good things about this presentation pretty much end there.
This is a old, outdated scan of the film taken from a poor quality source. The film is ridden with dirt, debris, and other print anomalies. Though no footage it missing, the film print is clearly damaged during key scenes. It shows too much wear and age. This is an underwhelming presentation. Perhaps this was the best source footage that could be used without extensive restoration efforts but it's simply a weak transfer that could have been much better with more effort.
A NOTE ABOUT THE TRANSFER
While Twilight Time believes Comes a Horseman to be a fine, and generally overlooked hidden treasure from the 1970s, and worthy of a second look by Blu-ray aficionados, we recognize it has not survived in the greatest of shape. We hope that those of you who care enough to buy a copy will forgive the unusually high (for a TT release) level of "speckling" (minus density) and general debris that mar the work of master cinematographer, Gordon Willis, in this hi-def presentation. We have rejected many other titles and transfers for similar reasons, but after some consideration decided this film was too important to let go. In light of this fact, we are offering it at a reduced price ($22.95 SRP) to encourage those on the fence about it. TT strives always to strike a balance between a duty to preserve the legacy of film history, as well as presenting the very best version of a film in hi-def as possible under the circumstances.
The audio doesn't fare much better than the video. Presented in 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono, the best thing about this audio presentation is that it preserves the original sound design. Dialogue is a little less crisp (but can still be easily understood). Fidelity is poor. The film sounds tiny and thin. This isn't an impressive sound stage. It's barely better than the sub-par video.
Subtitles are provided in English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing).
Please Note: This is a Region Free Blu-ray release.
This release includes a booklet featuring an essay by Julie Kirgo.
On disc supplements include:
Isolated Score Track in DTS-HD Master Audio
Original Theatrical Trailer
Comes a Horseman is a rather generic western on many levels. The storytelling isn't breaking new ground and the film feels stilted by a lack of dramatic creativity. The film does have an impressive lead performance by Jane Fonda (who is superb here), but it doesn't overcome a narrative that disappoints.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray release is a disappointment too. The video appears to be from an old, outdated source. It's not in very good shape. The audio is only marginally better than the video. Even big fans of the film might consider the shortcomings too much to consider adding this to their collections (especially if they already own it on DVD).
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.