John Wayne Westerns Collection (Blu-ray)

One of the most successful actors in Hollywood history, John Wayne made over 170 films in a career that spanned over five decades, and was a consistent box office draw for thirty years. Along the way, Wayne became a cult figure, epitomizing the rugged masculinity of the proud, American male. Eighty-three of John Wayne’s films were Westerns. Warner Brothers presents five of those films in its recently released, John Wayne Westerns Collection.

Housed in a mock storybook, this set includes three films that have been available on Blu-ray for a while (The Searchers, Rio Bravo, Fort Apache) and two making their high-definition debuts (The Train Robbers, Cahill: United States Marshal). It is worth noting that The Train Robbers, and Cahill: United States Marshal are available as standalone releases if you already own the other titles.

Fort Apache (1948)

The first of Wayne’s two collaborations with famed director John Ford available in this set, and the first of Ford and Wayne’s “cavalry trilogy,” which also includes She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950). Based on a short story by James Warner Bellah, Henry Fonda plays Lt. Colonel Owen Thursday, just assigned to commander to the remote Fort Apache. Having been a general during the Civil War he sees the assignment as not only a demotion in rank, but a humiliation. This tremendous anger leads him to regularly ignore the learned advice of Captain Kirby York (John Wayne) in regards to dealing with the soldiers and the Apaches.

A good enough film, Fort Apache treads on pretty familiar ground. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t give Fonda a whole lot to do. He’s the stereotypical know-it-all-but-not-so-much commander who is so convinced things have to be done his way, he doesn’t pay any attention to whether it’s the best way to do things. Thursday also happens to be widowed, so to complicate matters there’s a romantic subplot involving his daughter Philadelphia (Shirley Temple) and Lieutenant Michael O’Rourke (John Agar), who is not from a family of the same social status. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much to make him memorable. Luckily, Wayne has enough charisma to keep viewers interested.

This disc is identical to the 2012 standalone release. Presented in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, the 1080p transfer offers up excellent fine detail, with nicely nuanced greyscale, and fine blacks. There are, however, a few instances of print damage, and slight softness.

The DTS-HD MA mono audio track sounds quite good throughout, with no real audio distortions. The disc also offers a lossy Spanish Dolby mono audio option and English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.

The following extras are available:

  • Audio commentary by F.X. Feeney – The film critic provides a mix of anecdotes, critique, and history about the film.
  • Monument Valley: John Ford Country (14:41) This featurette is a discussion of John Ford’s frequent use of Monument Valley as a shooting location for his films, starting with Stagecoach in the 1930’s.
  • Trailer

The Searchers (1956)

Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), who fought for the Confederacy, returns home to Texas and the family ranch several years after the war has ended. Nobody has any idea what he quickly finds himself swept up in controversy. After dozens of cattle are stolen from local homesteads, the local Texas Ranger, Sam Clayton (Ward Bond) forms a search party and tries to deputize Ethan to join them. Refusing the deputization, Ethan, Sam and the rest find the cattle dead a few miles out. The men soon discover that the theft was a Comanche ploy to draw the men away from their families. They return to find the Edwards homestead in flames. Most of Ethan’s family is dead; his young nieces have been kidnapped by Comanche’s. What follows is a search of epic proportions; one that will define Ethan, several pf the other searchers, and even the man who abducted the girls.

Perhaps John Ford’s best work, The Searchers is a perfectly constructed film. Based on the book by Alan Le May and a screenplay by Frank S. Nugent, features strong characters, and the story packs an emotional punch, without ever feeling overwrought. Ranked as one of the top twenty movies of all time by several well regarded film sources, The Searchers has remains an important benchmark in terms of its look at racism, and the effects of war on the human psyche. More than fifty years after its initial theatrical release, The Searchers remains a must-see for any serious student of film.

Presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer is identical to WB’s 2006 Blu-ray release. Stable, clean, and boasting consistently fine detail, skin tones are a tad brown, but it’s not a big distraction. However, there is some digital blocking that likely could be corrected given recent advances.

The Dolby mono audio track sounds great for what it is, but one wishes WB would have given The Searchers a lossless upgrade for this set, but no dice. In addition to the main audio, the disc also offers French Dolby mono and Spanish Dolby mono. English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.

The following extras are available:

  • Audio commentary by filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich: Bogdanovich, who has interviewed John Ford, made a documentary about him, and written about him extensively, breaks down Ford’s use of the camera and marvels at his economy. For would-be-filmmakers, this is essential listening.
  • Introduction by Patrick Wayne (1:52) Wayne shares tidbits from time he spent with his father on the set.
  • The Searchers: An Appreciation (31:01) Martin Scorsese, John Milius, and Curtis Hanson discuss their personal connection to this film and the ways it has influenced their work.
  • A Turning of the Earth: John Ford, John Wayne, and The Searchers (33:10) A thorough look at the making of the film. Recommended.
  • Behind the Cameras (21:49) Four clips from different episodes of TV’s Warner Brothers Presents, hosted by Gig Young. The clips highlight Jeffrey Hunter, Natalie Wood, Monument Valley, and the pre-production process.


Rio Bravo (1959)

Directed by Howard Hawks, Rio Bravo stars Wayne as John T Chance, sheriff of a small Texas town, Rio Bravo. He’s assigned to take custody of a murderer (Claude Akins) whose brother (John Russell), a powerful rancher, is plotting his escape. As part of this effort, he hires several gunmen to bottle up the town and keep the pressure on Chance. After all this, Chance and his deputies—disgraced drunk “Dude” (Dean Martin) and the irritable, crippled Stumpy (Walter Brennan)—must find a way to hold out against the rancher’s hired guns until the federal marshal arrives. To make matters worse, they must also deal with the appearance of a cool, cocky young gunslinger named Colorado Ryan (Ricky Nelson), and a mysterious beauty (Angie Dickinson), who just might have feelings for the much older Sherriff.

The plot of Rio Bravo is hardly new, but it’s also been a favorite of mine even though I’ve never been the biggest John Wayne fan. It’s the rest of the rest of the cast that really makes this one stand out. Dean Martin brings some of his rat pack swagger, and wicked sense of humor to the table. Ricky Nelson is a pleasant surprise. Then a huge television star but untested on the big screen, the slight sense of insecurity he brings to the role, adds a nice edge to his supposedly cocky gunslinger. In a smaller role, Angie Dickinson is sexy and charming in feathers. John Wayne does a fine job in his role, but it’s not unlike many others.

Presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer is the same as the 2007 Blu-ray release with vivid colors, and fairly strong details with the occasional inconsistency. It looks pretty good, just not great.

The main audio mix has been upgraded from lossy to lossless with a DTS-HD MA mono audio track that offers up significantly more dynamic range. Dialogue is clean, and clear throughout. Music and sound effects sound good. The alternate audio options are French Dolby mono, German Dolby mono, Italian Dolby mono, and Castilian Spanish Dolby mono. Several subtitles are included: English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian SDH, Castilian Spanish, Dutch, Korean, Latin Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.

The following extras are available:

  • Audio commentary with Critic Richard Schickel and Filmmaker John Carpenter: Both commentators break down the history and style of the film. Carpenter points out Hawks’s different approaches to visual storytelling for the camera throughout. Since these two men were recorded at different times and spliced together, that can make the track oddly chaotic in places, as the sound editor tries to pack in both of their relevant anecdotes simultaneously.
  • Commemoration: Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (33:23) Peter Bogdanovich, Walter Hill, and John Carpenter provide background on the film, and explain its importance to the western genre.
  • Old Tucscon: Where the Legends Walked (8:34) A brief history of the studio where the film was made.
  • Trailer

The Train Robbers (1973)

Written and directed by Burt Kennedy, who gives the film an impressive look, The Train Robbers stars John Wayne as Layne, who brings Mrs. Lowe (Ann-Margret) to Liberty, Texas to search for half a million in gold stolen by her deceased husband and others in a train robbery five years earlier. She is eager to clear the family name so her son won’t suffer for it. Lane has assembled a small group of men to get the job done, but they must outmaneuver the train robbers of the title, to reach the gold first and get away alive. There’s also a mysterious man played by Ricardo Montalban who seems to be on the trail of both of them.

Though The Train Robbers is only 92 minutes, it feels a lot longer, probably because of the countless scenes of men on horseback that do nothing to advance the plot. This probably would have made for a better episode of Bonanza, than a film. By 1973, Wayne’s career was winding down, and unfortunately, a few of his films, like this one, were largely forgettable.

Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, WB has given The Train Robbers a very solid 1080p transfer. Colors are vivid throughout, and blacks are strong. Fine detail is very good, though there are just a few inconsistencies. I noticed a few instances of print damage, but nothing major.

The DTS-HD MA mono audio has been beautifully restored, offering a dynamic mix that nicely serves Dominic Frontiere’s musical score, as well as the dialogue and effects. The following Alternate Audio options are included: French Dolby mono, Latin Spanish Dolby mono, and Castilian Spanish Dolby mono. The following subtitles are also included: English SDH, French, Latin Spanish, Castilian and Spanish.

The following extras are available:

  • John Wayne: Working with a Western Legend (10:35) Stuntman discuss their work on the film.
  • Wayne Train (4:09) A vintage promo, consisting of a bunch of B-roll from the set, tied together by narration and music.
  • Trailer

Cahill: United States Marshal (1973)

In his role as Cahill: US Marshall, Wayne stretches a bit as an actor, playing a widower of two young boys. His job keeps him away a lot, and his sons (one of whom is played by Summer of ‘42’s Gary Grimes), find themselves involved in a bank robbery largely out of vindictiveness. However, they get more than they bargained for when things don’t go as planned. When for innocent men are tried and set to be hung, they want to turn the money in and confess, but their outlaw partners have other plans. Wayne shows a rare vulnerable side, as he realizes his failures as a father, and desperately tries to help his sons.

Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, WB has given Cahill: United States Marshal a fairly solid 1080p transfer. Clean throughout, colors are well saturated, and appropriately earthy. Shadow detail is very good, and fine detail is sufficient, if a tad inconsistent.

The main DTS-HD MA mono audio mix is good. Elmer Bernstein’s music is presented with a nice fullness. Dialogue sounds a bit boxy, but clear. Effects are appropriately dynamic. Alternate audio options are as follows: French Dolby mono, German Dolby mono, Castilian Spanish Dolby mono, Latin Spanish Dolby mono, Portuguese Dolby mono. Subtitle options: English SDH, French, German SDH, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, and Portuguese.

The following extras are available:

  • Audio commentary by Director Andrew V. McLaglen: McLaglen’s fifth and final film with John Wayne, the director discusses his history with Wayne, the production, other actors, and some anecdotes,
  • The Man Behind The Star (7:47) A vintage TV promo, with on set footage, and narration.
  • Trailer

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