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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Ann: You went out there to talk. Why did you have to shoot the man?
DVD ReviewDuring the making of The Undefeated in 1969, John Wayne was 62 years old with over 100 films to his credit. With so many of his contemporaries either dead, retired, or making embarrassing attempts to stay current, The Duke carried on like it was 1948, producing good old-fashioned Westerns. Maybe not a shrewd move in terms of profits, but at this point in his career, I think Wayne was more interested in having fun and producing the kind of films his loyal devotees wanted to see.
Although not in the same league as True Grit or North To Alaska, this Andrew V. McLaglen-directed feature offers the unusual teaming of Wayne with matinee idol Rock Hudson against a fascinating post-Civil War backdrop. In the midst of an 1865 battle, Union Colonel John Henry Thomas (Wayne) receives words of General Robert E. Lee's surrender—three days after the fact. After the inevitable shell shock passes, Thomas retires to head west with some of his former soldiers and adapted Indian son, Blue Boy (Roman Gabriel), who together accumulate 3,000 wild horses along the way. Former Confederate foes seeking to start anew aren't far behind, including embittered Colonel James Langdon (Hudson), who wants to burn memories of a crushing defeat, literally.
Along the way, the inevitable meeting of former enemies takes place on Mexican soil as Langdon warns John Henry of potential hazards, which sure enough commence almost on cue as pesky bandits step into the picture.
Uniting to save each other's skin melts past differences so successfully that the former civil warriors and their respective camps gather for a rousing 4th of July picnic. Langdon's family and entourage enjoy similar treatment a day later, thanks to the hospitality of Rojas (Antonio Aguilar), a Mexican general whose gentlemanly demeanor masks a hidden agenda. When word arrives at John Henry's camp that the Southerners are being held prisoner, it's chaaaarge(!) time as Thomas's posse rides to the rescue.
Despite its slow start and storyline in need of a compass, The Undefeated is oddly entertaining when it works. Filled with the usual Wayne hallmarks of familiar faces from westerns past (Ben Johnson, Bruce Cabot, and Dub Taylor, the latter of whom is hilarious as ornery, cook McCartney), and eclectic casting that sometimes works (former Los Angeles Ram/FTD pitchman Merlin Olsen's soft-spoken bull of a man who's not keen on fighting, unless that yella word is uttered) and sometimes doesn't (fellow Ram Roman Gabriel? Well, at least he's got some great stories for the grandkids). Excepting McMillan and Wife, I never much cared for Rock Hudson, but other than that come 'n' go twang he never quite masters, the Hollywood matinee idol impresses by holding his own with the Duke (and none too shabby in the throwing/taking punches department), although their lack of mutual scenes as a team is disappointing.
Aside from Wayne's usual ingratiating performance, the other main reason to give this film a spin is to witness the wonderful photographic skills of cinematographer William H. Clothier. A longtime technical cohort of the Duke's dating back to Fort Apache, his grandiose, sweeping visuals (check out the herd movement and battle sequences in Chapters 12 and 25) are textbook examples of the art of photographing a Western. Sadly in these days of cost cutting and digital manipulation, we'll most likely never see such finesse again.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: Stupendously shimmering considering this is one of Wayne's more obscure films: very warm, vibrant colors (cinematographer Clothier's photography looks incredible), black levels are on the money, video levels are perfectly balanced. Chalk up another wonderful piece of work from Panasonic MDMC.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Fine, detailed and punchy 2.0 mono (but the music lover in me wishes Hugo Montenegro's terrific score could have been presented in multi-channel form, or at least basic stereo).
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring North To Alaska, The Comancheros
Layers Switch: 01h:19m:17s
Extras Review: Since director Andrew V. McLaglen recently did a commentary track for Warner Bros recent dip into their John Wayne archives (Chisum, which McLaglen also helmed), it's too bad Fox couldn't have followed their lead and had him do the same here. But the Portuguese and Spanish versions of the original trailer are a hoot; their faded look also shows you what a nice finished transfer we're blessed with in comparison.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsThough far from classic, The Undefeated possesses enough charm to merit at least a rental for casual observers; fans of John Wayne need not worry about quality issues, as Fox/Panasonic MDMC's transfer is on a par with The Comancheros and North To Alaska, completing a stellar DVD hat trick of the actor's '60s-era Western output for the studio.
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