the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

Warner Home Video presents

The John Ford Film Collection (The Lost Patrol / The Informer / Mary of Scotland / Sergeant Rutledge /Cheyenne Autumn) (1934-1964)

Mary Beecher: We're just two people trying to stay alive.
Sgt. Rutledge: Lady, you don't know how hard I'm trying to stay alive.- Constance Towers, Woody Strode

Stars: Victor McLaglen, Boris Karloff, Wallace Ford, Heather Angel, Preston Foster, Katharine Hepburn, Fredric March, John Carradine, Jeffrey Hunter, Constance Towers, James Stewart, Richard Widmark, Carroll Baker
Other Stars: Reginald Denny, Margot Grahame, Una O'Connor, Florence Eldridge, Douglas Walton, Billie Burke, Woody Strode, Karl Malden, Sal Mineo, Dolores del Rio, Ricardo Montalban, Arthur Kennedy, Victor Jory, Ken Curtis
Director: John Ford

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 09h:13m:58s
Release Date: 2006-06-06
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-B+B+ B


DVD Review

John Ford made plenty of great pictures without John Wayne, hard as that may be to believe. This boxed set from Warner Home Video collects five of them, spanning a period of 30 years, sampling some genuine classics and lesser known features of Ford. At present, none of these films are available separately, so this collection is the only way to get them.

The Lost Patrol (1934)

"And not a ghost of an idea where we're at, what we're here for and where we're going."
- The Sergeant (Victor McLaglen)

In 1917 Mesopotamia, a British unit finds itself in serious trouble when its young officer is killed by an enemy sniper: their leader had neglected to tell the rest of the group where they were going, or where they were. The men, led by the Sergeant (Victor McLaglen), make their way to an oasis, but things quickly go from bad to worse, as the opposition first make off with their horses and then begin picking them off one by one. Nearly everything they try ends in disaster and hope for relief begins to run out as the patrol goes mad from isolation and fear.

Boris Karloff found a way out of the ghetto of horror movies as a result of his memorable performance in this picture. As Sanders, he goes from religious fervor to fanaticism to mania. It's a memorable turn that steals the show from a very competent troupe of actors. In its brief running time, there's humor, desperation, paranoia, claustrophobia and naked fear, emphasized by the fact that until the very end the enemy is not so much as glimpsed by the viewer. They're like a mysterious force of nature, striking men down seemingly at random. As an ensemble character piece, it's a tour de force, and a great classic that still has a bitter message, when one recalls what Mesopotamia is called today.

The Informer (1935)

"Isn't there a man here can tell me why I did it?"
- Gypo Nolan (Victor McLaglen)

Drunkard Irishman Gypo Nolan (McLaglen) succumbs to the temptation of a £20 reward to betray his friend, IRA member Frankie McPhillip (Wallace Ford) to the British. Wracked with guilt after Frankie is gunned down, Gypo cannot spend the money fast enough, raising the suspicions of everyone around him and forcing him into a series of lies that eventually spells his doom. The scene at Frankie's wake, as Gypo drops some of the money on the floor, inculpating himself, is full of suspense, as is the sequence in which he is interrogated by the IRA, fingering others as the culprit. McLaglen and Ford both won Oscars for this picture, as did composer Max Steiner and screenwriter Dudley Nichols.

Using the techniques of German Expressionism, Ford creates an incredible tableau of shadow, darkness and light in the nightmarish world of Gypo's psyche. There's one stunning sequence after another, making it one of the most visually striking pictures of the 1930s. But it's also propelled by McLaglen's portrayal of Gypo, an inarticulate brute and alcoholic who knows he has become a Judas but cannot help himself. At the same time, he has dreams of a better life that the money can bring him, most sharply personified in a poster tauntingly proclaiming the availability of £10 steamer tickets to America. An essential picture in Ford's canon, it still packs a wallop 70 years later.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

"My religion is no garment to be put on and off with the weather."
- Mary, Queen of Scots (Katharine Hepburn)

Ford isn't typically known for Elizabethan costume drama, making this 1936 feature starring Katharine Hepburn and Fredric March something of an oddity. Based on the drama by Maxwell Anderson, this picture traces the history of Mary, Queen of Scots (Hepburn) from her return to Scotland to her demise at the scaffold at the hands of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I (Florence Eldridge). The story brings to vivid life the complex politics behind the throne, as the Scottish lords conspire against Mary while she struggles for her own independence and ability to remain Catholic in increasingly Presbyterian Scotland. At the same time, Mary bears a fierce passion for the Earl of Bothwell (March), while marrying the effeminate Lord Darnley (Douglas Walton) in a misguided effort to stay one step ahead of the lords. In the meantime, Elizabeth, fearful of Mary's possible claims to the throne of England and nervous about assertions of her own illegitimacy, undermines Mary at every opportunity, finally taking her prisoner and demanding she renounce the throne.

While there's a certain amount of pageant, Ford brings a vigor to the proceedings, even when they're fairly talky. Not quite as impressive visually as The Informer, it still has its moments, such as Lord Darnley by candlelight cowering in fear of assassins. Hepburn, ever imperious, is a marvelous choice for Mary, and she makes the most of a meaty part. March is quite good as Bothwell, with an intense romanticism that counterpoints and even at times seems to melt Hepburn's iciness. One of the notable supporting cast, Moroni Olsen, portrays John Knox as a veritable Old Testament prophet, railing against Mary as a "Jezebel of France", spurning the hand of friendship and tolerance from Mary and turning the people of Scotland against her. Dudley Nichols does a fine job of opening up the story; it seldom feels stagey and seems cinematic through much of its running time, though perforce the sequences in prison have a claustrophobia that's appropriate to the subject matter. While not one of Ford's more notable titles, it's still quite creditable and deserving of a visit.

Sergeant Rutledge (1960)

"You're not going to take him back now, are you? Because you know they'll hang him if you do."
- Mary Beecher (Constance Towers)

This racially charged Western centers on the court-martial of Sgt. Braxton Rutledge (Woody Strode), a black cavalryman who stands accused of the murder of his commanding officer, and the rape and murder of that officer's daughter, Lucy (Toby Michaels), in 1881 Arizona Territory. While the prosecutor, Captain Shattuck (Carleton Young) will stop at little to get a conviction and a hanging, Lt. Tom Cantrell (Jeffrey Hunter) stands by Rutledge, even though he was the arresting officer. Rutledge's life hangs in the balance, although he keeps a secret that may save his life, if anyone will ever believe a black man accused of violating a white woman. And if they don't hang him before he's convicted.

Ford handles this sensitive subject matter with care and taste. There is a fair amount of comic relief (especially in the person of Billie Burke, who plays the presiding judge's dotty wife), which is pretty necessary given the grim proceedings. Ford uses some expressly theatrical devices to good effect, such as dimming the lights as witnesses testify and the picture shifts to flashback mode. Strode is highly intense as the title character, and seems on the verge of exploding right out of the frame. The baby-faced Jeffrey Hunter is quite good as Cantrell, devoted to his friendship with Rutledge as well as to the military code that keeps him in pursuit of justice at the same time as he forces Rutledge to face that justice. The film is also notable as one of the earliest serious looks at the "buffalo soldiers" of the West. It ends up with a Perry Mason twist and courtroom confession that's kind of silly, but the emotional charge is so strong that one is willing to forgive quite a lot.

Cheyenne Autumn (1964)

"I told you to cover that flank. From now on, you don't scratch till I itch."
- Captain Thomas Archer (Richard Widmark)

The package winds up with Ford's last Western, sparked by an incredible cast and using the widescreen format to give Monument Valley one last fond look. Based both on a true incident and the Mari Sandoz novel recounting that incident, the story tells of the painful 1500-mile trek in 1878 of several hundred Cheyenne who refuse to live in Oklahoma and are determined to return to their homeland in Yellowstone. One of the more problematic of Ford's films, it takes a very sympathetic look at the Indians and their mistreatment at the hands of the whites. There are some issues with the picture, starting with the fact that the supposed 1500-mile journey never quite leaves Monument Valley.

The cast is quite substantial, starting with a snarling Richard Widmark. Carroll Baker is cast against type as the Quaker schoolmarm, while James Stewart and Edward G. Robinson make bit appearances as Wyatt Earp and the Secretary of the Interior, respectively. The story is grim and bleak, with very little comic relief to make it more palatable, but it's undeniably moving. The presentation replicates the roadshow experience by including the overture by Alex North.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Notice: Undefined variable: aspectflag in /home/hellawobo/public_html/ on line 373

Notice: Undefined variable: aspectflag in /home/hellawobo/public_html/ on line 388

Notice: Undefined variable: aspectflag in /home/hellawobo/public_html/ on line 393

Notice: Undefined variable: aspectflag in /home/hellawobo/public_html/ on line 398
 One Two
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame 1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes yes
Anamorphicno yes

Image Transfer Review: The print for The Lost Patrol is in fairly rough shape, with a couple instances of unstable framing, severe flicker and substantial grain sparkle. It also tends to be fairly dark, with little shadow detail. The rest of the films look quite good, with The Informer and Mary of Scotland coming from nearly flawless prints. These have a wide range of greyscale and plenty of detail and are quite satisfactory. Sergeant Rutledge looks quite good, apart from the odd speckle and mild shimmer, once you get past the main titles, which appear rather faded. Cheyenne Autumn is quite attractive, with vivid color and a pristine print that features plenty of detail. The latter two pictures are presented in anamorphic widescreen, while the first three are in the original full frame.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French (Sgt. Rutledge only)no
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 1.0 mono English tracks on the 1930s films sound quite good for the era; Mary of Scotland in particular has very little noise or hiss present for most of the running time. Max Steiner's scores on these films also sound quite good for the period, with decent presence and range though obviously little in the way of deep bass. Sergeant Rutledge also has a French 1.0 track in addition to the English one, which sounds fine, the music coming across well, and quite free of noise. Cheyenne Autumn features a 5.1 remix that has a nice broad soundstage and gives a modern feel to the picture.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 149 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by biographer Joseph McBride
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
5 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: DVD-18

Extras Review: All discs except The Lost Patrol are dual layer. The Lost Patrol and Mary of Scotland carry with them no extras of any kind. The Informer at least has a theatrical trailer and a 10-minute appreciation featurette, Out of the Fog, which points out numerous striking sequences and Ford's strong use of symbolism. Sergeant Rutledge features only a worn full-frame trailer as an extra. Cheyenne Autumn is supported both by an anamorphic widescreen trailer and a period documentary, Cheyenne Autumn Trail, a retracing of the 1500-mile journey by the Cheyenne descendants of those who made it to Montana, narrated by James Stewart. It's an interesting perspective on the film and well worth checking out. The movie also features a commentary track from Joseph McBride, a John Ford biographer, who gives the film an honest appraisal, pointing out its flaws as well as its merits.

Extras Grade: B

Final Comments

An impressive set of five films covering everything from Ireland to Elizabethan Britain to racially-charged Westerns. The transfers are quite good, though The Last Patrol suffers from a less than spectacular print, and only Cheyenne Autumn has a sizable set of extras.

Mark Zimmer 2006-06-05