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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"In '66, an old boy with nothing but a gas station and one good horse won. This year, this old boy's gonna do it."
DVD ReviewFor some, the art of comedy is like the old saying goes, hard. In Walter Matthau's case, he was one of the few actors that could accomplish laughter without even trying. Close friend and occasional screen partner Jack Lemmon once told a classic story that perfectly illustrated this claim. During their teaming in Billy Wilder's, Buddy, Buddy, the hangdog-faced actor broke a collarbone after taking a fall during filming. While awaiting medical attention, Lemmon hovered over his pal and asked, "Are you comfortable?" Even while experiencing what could have been massive pain, Matthau didn't miss a beat: "I make a living." Although his enduring legacy includes some of the best comedies of all time (The Odd Couple, The Fortune Cookie and The Sunshine Boys), such triumphs overshadow the fact that he could be a great dramatic actor in underrated gems like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, King Creole and A Face in the Crowd.
Matthau's best performances came in movies that blended laughs and drama; Casey's Shadow, a 1977 film, is a perfect combination of the two and re-surfaces on DVD in the wake of the recently successful Seabiscuit, thanks to its similar subject matter. Lloyd Bourdelle (Matthau) is a Louisiana quarter horse trainer, barely scraping by thanks to a lifelong losing streak, which has made life tough for a single father of three boys. A reversal of trend seems even more unlikely when elder son Buddy (Andrew Rubin) brings a new animal home: a pregnant mare who could go into labor at any minute. But the bloodline of the impending foal goes back to Sure Hit, a highly successful racehorse.
As the story moves forward in time, the now two-year-old colt, after surviving a rough birth, matures into a beautiful, strong horse. Regardless, Pop feels he won't be good for much more than novelty tricks at county fairs, but youngest son Casey aims to prove otherwise. After the horse checks out okay, Lloyd brings good news to his adventurous lad by informing him that registration papers designate the heretofore unnamed animal as Casey's Shadow.
To reveal more would be an injustice to a film loaded with riches and surprises. Filled with believable characters, snappy dialogue and just the right blend of laughs and drama, Casey's Shadow is one of those rare sports movies that can appeal to a wide variety of audience, not just equestrians and animal lovers (if it wasn't for my sole nitpick of overused profanity, this would be a perfect family film). Although he doesn't quite master the Cajun dialect, Matthau is lovable as Bourdelle, infusing the role with his patented gruff charm and one-liner mastery. The distinctive characters of the the three sons works well, especially Michael Hershewe as Casey. Great supporting cast, too, with veterans Alexis Smith, Murray Hamilton (the mayor from Jaws) and Robert Webber (10, Moonlighting) all giving terrific performances. To top it off, the rural feel in tandem with the love and respect the filmmakers give the sport really draws you in.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: How is it that we can get the complete works of Sean William Scott in widescreen with more features than a theme issue of Tiger Beat, while established legends like Matthau have their work butchered? Actually, the real loser here is cinematographer John A. Alonzo, whose warm, vivid visuals are all but ruined by the pan-and-scan treatment, a point brought home in both the opening and closing credits, which are in glorious, 2.35:1 ratio. Intimate moments with characters based on the sides of the screen having half their profile shaved off, the electronically manipulated action in the horse races, increased grain... If Casey's Shadow had been unimaginatively filmed, excruciatingly boring, or one of Matthau's lesser trips to the plate, I wouldn't have my knickers in a twist. That said, besides a few barely-there nicks and dated low-key colors, the print is in marvelous condition, making this full-frame presentation even more of a debacle. The probable "family films don't do well with widescreen transfers" cop-out is a joke; even Disney is issuing most of their high profile, live action films in the anamorphic format (not to mention that past "modified to fit your screen" sins like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang are currently being re-tooled as of this writing).
Image Transfer Grade: D
Audio Transfer Review: On the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of quality is the surprisingly robust mono soundtrack. Filled with good dynamics and a crispness usually wanting in 1970s-era films making the jump to DVD, I don't have a bad thing to say about this track (but I used up all my antagonism in the visual overview, so there you go).
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Soccer Dog, Daddy Day Care, Stuart Little 2
Extras Review: At the time of the film, a "making-of" was produced, but do we get it here? HA! Only the ususal assortment of family-ready trailers,
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsCasey's Shadow is the equivalent of a great day at the track, but Columbia's decision to play pan-and-scan leaves me feeling not unlike a trainer forced to send an injured horsey to the glue factory.
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