The Great American Western, Vols. 1-10 (10 Discs) product details page

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The Great American Western, Vols. 1-10 (10 Discs)

Burt LancasterEdward ByrnesDavid Wayne

Director: George McCowanJoseph KaneGiorgio Stegani

rated: R

released: March 30, 2004

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The highlight of this excellent low-budget western filmed at Newhall, California, is a rather spectacular fight scene involving no less than 40 riders, quite an undertaking for low-budget producer (and former stunt-man) Paul Malvern. Yakima Canutt, who also plays John Wayne's Indian sidekick, performs an equally amazing leap into the lagoon at Newhall and doubles Wayne in a great fight with fellow-stunt-man Ed Parker. Much have been written in recent years about The Star Packer's horror elements -- too much, some would say -- but they are not exactly frightening. Not even to leading Verna Hillie who, when confronted with a hideously grimacing Artie Ortego outside her bedroom window, merely fires off a few shots, one of which humorously hits a fleeing henchman in his nether regions. There is also a secret passageway, a hollow tree stump (appearing out of nowhere, incidentally) from inside of which Billy Franey shoots and kills newly elected Sheriff Tom Lingham, and a mystery villain whose identity is not too difficult to spot for anyone who has seen Wayne's previous Randy Rides Alone (1934). In the end, it is not the rather hoary mystery elements but the amazing stunts that make this little western truly stand out. Hans J. Wollstein, All Movie Guide

Often described by director Martin Scorsese as his favorite Western, Marlon Brando's only foray into directing resulted in one of the most interesting films in the genre. Brando plays an outlaw abandoned on a Mexican mountainside by his partner Karl Malden, while escaping from a posse. After doing a five-year hitch in a Mexican prison, Brando goes looking for revenge. A film whose troubled production history included contributions by Sam Peckinpah and Stanley Kubrick, in many ways it's a precursor to the operatic, slow-motion oaters of Sergio Leone. Basically a standard Western, it's raised a few notches by a great performance from Brando, who is given all he can handle by a memorably sadistic Malden. The pace of the scenes is undeniably slow, and one's enjoyment of the film probably depends on the extent to which viewers find Brando's myriad expressions of slow-burning rage compelling. Either Brando has an excellent eye or he was lucky in his choice of cinematographer Charles Lang, because the photography of Monterey, the Sierras, and the Mexican coastline is spectacular. Katy Jurado, Slim Pickens, Ben Johnson, and the always disturbed Timothy Carey round out the colorful cast. Michael Costello, All Movie Guide

Director William Witney's stamp is all over Under California Stars, including a prolonged and quite brutal fistfight between Roy Rogers and House Peters, Jr. The climactic shoot-out is also more potent than was usually the case in family-oriented B-Western fare, what with one villain killing the other before being felled by Roy. All of which, of course, don't amount to a hill of beans in today's climate but the small fry of 1948 must have had a field day. In contrast to his fine action sequences, Witney gets very little out of leading lady Jane Frazee, who replaced an otherwise engaged Dale Evans in five Rogers Westerns 1947-1948 and whose presence here is merely decorative. The petite Frazee, as tubby Andy Devine's relative, does become the victim of the film's funniest line, when after picking up the swooning actress, Roy quips: "She must be your cousin because she weighs a ton" Hans J. Wollstein, All Movie Guide

As he often managed to do, director/screenwriter Robert North Bradbury opens Blue Steel in a highly suspenseful manner, this time by having John Wayne holed up in a secluded hotel whose proprietor is expecting trouble. Assorted interesting guests arrive, including a couple of timid honeymooners, and there are mysterious bumps in the night. But Bradbury once again fails to follow through and the remainder of Blue Steel is the usual lackadaisical Grade-Z Western enlivened somewhat by a couple of good stunts from Yakima Canutt. Bradbury was full of good intentions, not to mention a noteworthy idea or two (his flash-pan method of getting a character from one place to another is always enjoyable), but lacked the economy and general wherewithal to make his Westerns much more than routine budget-fillers. But the Big Pine locations are picturesque. Hans J. Wollstein, All Movie Guide

An extremely entertaining Gene Autry Western, Boots and Saddles goes a long way to explain the "Autry phenomenon, " a Depression-era quirk that tends to puzzle many a modern viewer. As opposed to the majority of low-budget oaters, this fast-paced Autry effort simply has everything -- good songs, including Autry's own "Give Me My Boots and Saddles"; eye-popping stunts, such as a branch-snapping "mistake" that turns out to be an indigenous method of disabling two henchmen in one fell swoop; and best of all, true comedy, not the usual sidekick routines that tended to bring a B-Western to a screeching halt. In one hilarious scene, Autry, William Elliott, and Guy Usher deliver their lines at the top of their lungs after Gene has been convinced by a duplicitous Judith Allen that her father, the colonel, is hard of hearing. Autry even takes a pratfall or two Boy violinist Ra Hould later changed his name to Ronald Sinclair and became a film editor for low-budget producer/director Roger Corman. A Freddie Bartholomew type with a penchant for stuffiness, even Hould is fairly tolerable here. Hans J. Wollstein, All Movie Guide

The Naked Hills is a pretty poor little Western, and that's all the more regrettable because in one respect it is a very unusual Hollywood film: the hero is an utter failure. And not just any failure, but one whose obsessions causes him to waste his entire life, and the lives of his family which he has abandoned. This is absolutely terrific fodder for an insightful, introspective character study. Unfortunately, the filmmaker -- writer/producer/director Josef Shaftel - doesn't bother to make much use of this. He doesn'treally delve into what makes a man spend not just years but whole decades doggedly in pursuit of a dream that will never come true. Instead, he focuses on all the typical clichés one associates with a Western, especially one dealing with gold prospecting. One keeps waiting for something fresh or new, but it never comes. If the screenplay represents a missed and botched opportunity, it at least gives that fine actor David Wayne a shot at a rare leading role. He does as well as can be expected under the circumstances, but he's not able to overcome the limitations of the screenplay. Keenan Wynn and Jim backus add a little spark as some claim jumpers, and it's a pleasure to hear James Barton singing the title song, but otherwise there's not a lot to recommend here. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

Any Gun Can Play is a fun, surprisingly lighthearted take on the spaghetti western genre. In fact, it's particularly fascinating because it is as much a crime caper as it is a western thanks to a plot that focuses on double and triple-crosses between characters who struggle for the upper hand while searching out a hidden cache of gold. Any Gun Can Play also has a sense of humor that keeps the proceedings engaging. Director Enzo Castellari wisely plays into this aspect of the material, mixing conventional shootouts with bits of slapstick humor that dovetail nicely with the action. In terms of acting, George Hilton anchors the film with a solid, slyly humorous performance as the film's mysterious hero. He also receives nice support from Edd Byrnes as a banker opponent who becomes an ally and Gilbert Roland's authoritative turn as a wily crime kingpin. A classic-style spaghetti western score from Francesco De Masi seals the film's charm. In short, Any Gun Can Play is a nice diversion for spaghetti western fans looking for a break from the genre's sometimes brutal excesses. Donald Guarisco, All Movie Guide

Roy Rogers is among the most enduringly popular of Western movie stars, and My Pal Trigger is an excellent example of him at his gosh-darned most endearing. Seems like Roy (playing himself) wants to breed his mare with a champion stallion, but the owner (Gabby Hayes) won't agree. After a dastardly businessman (Jack Holt) interferes, the stallion is killed and Roy finds himself with a pregnant mare. Of course, Gabby has a pretty daughter (Dale Evans) and there's a big race to win, so Roy has lots of chances to act honorably and be a role model even if, for most of the picture, he is misunderstood by almost everyone. My Pal Trigger features bright, happy music, a fast-moving story line, and pleasant characters who are all lacking in moral ambiguity. It's a top-grade example of what a good B-movie of this type should be, with authentic cowboy Yakima Canutt contributing behind the camera. Richard Gilliam, All Movie Guide

John Wayne spends most of The Man from Utah with an embarrassed grin on his face as if Lindsley Parsons' simplistic dialogue was simply too much to handle, so what the heck In contrast, George "Gabby" Hayes, still billed plain George Hayes, is visibly and audibly coming into his own, complete with ruffled appearance and such future trademark sayings as "tarnation" and "young whippersnapper." Only the standard complaint about those "durn persnickety females" is still missing. As he had in several of his early Westerns, John Wayne "performs" a little ditty, his singing voice, according to some sources, provided by future 20th Century-Fox B-Western crooner Smith Ballew. The jury, however, is still out on that. As a Western melodrama, The Man from Utah isn't much but it remains amusing to watch both Wayne and Hayes in their embryonic stages. And the Kernville River locations are picturesque as always. Hans J. Wollstein, All Movie Guide

Earl Dwire essayed many a nasty Boss Villain in his long B-Western career, but this time he is even more vile. With an ill-fitting wig and an even worse Mexican accent, Dwire positively leers at the sight of Sheila Terry and right in front of the girl's grandfather to boot. The latter is played by that ornery old polecat George Hayes, years before he added "Gabby" to his moniker, and he easily steals every scene he is in. Yakima Canutt, meanwhile, performs several daring stunts, some while wearing a wig to look like Terry, and a very young John Wayne hems and haws as only he could. Neither the best nor the worst of the Monogram Lone Star Westerns, The Lawless Frontier is interesting mainly as an example of Wayne in his embryonic years. Hans J. Wollstein, All Movie Guide

The ****** Hills is a pretty poor little Western, and that's all the more regrettable because in one respect it is a very unusual Hollywood film: the hero is an utter failure. And not just any failure, but one whose obsessions causes him to waste his entire life, and the lives of his family which he has abandoned. This is absolutely terrific fodder for an insightful, introspective character study. Unfortunately, the filmmaker -- writer/producer/director Josef Shaftel - doesn't bother to make much use of this. He doesn'treally delve into what makes a man spend not just years but whole decades doggedly in pursuit of a dream that will never come true. Instead, he focuses on all the typical clichés one associates with a Western, especially one dealing with gold prospecting. One keeps waiting for something fresh or new, but it never comes. If the screenplay represents a missed and botched opportunity, it at least gives that fine actor David Wayne a shot at a rare leading role. He does as well as can be expected under the circumstances, but he's not able to overcome the limitations of the screenplay. Keenan Wynn and Jim backus add a little spark as some claim jumpers, and it's a pleasure to hear James Barton singing the title song, but otherwise there's not a lot to recommend here. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

There's an awful lot of fiery Colonial womenfolk in Mohawk and every one of them looking as if she just leaped out from the latest copy of Vogue. No one was ever meant to take this whites versus the Iroquois Nation melodrama serious, of course, especially not when former scream queen Mae Clarke turns up as Rita Gam's Native American mother, complete with quaint Indian homilies, while Neville Brand's evil brave sneers in the background. But the ladies are all fetching, and if director Kurt Neumann isn't exactly in a class with John Ford, Mohawk is at least pretty to look at in Technicolor. Hans J. Wollstein, All Movie Guide

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