The Comancheros

 

The Comancheros

50th Anniversary Edition

Screenplay by James Edward Grant & Clare Huffaker

Based on the novel by Paul Wellman

Directed by Michael Curtiz & John Wayne (uncredited)

1961

 

Cast:

John Wayne

Stuart Whitman

Ina Balin

Nehemiah Persoff

Lee Marvin

Michael Ansara

 

Studio:

Theatrical:  20th Century Fox

Video: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

 

Video:

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 CinemaScope

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: 47.07 GB

Feature Size: 34.40 GB

Avg. Total Bit Rate: 36.26 Mbps

Runtime: 107 minutes

Chapters: 16

Region: All

 

Audio

English DTS-HD MA 5.1

English Dolby Digital 4.0

French Dolby Digital 2.0

Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0

English Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Subtitles

English SDH, Spanish & French

 

Extras:

• Audio commentary with Stuart Whitman, Nehemiah Persoff, Michael Ansara and Patrick Wayne

• The Comancheros and the Battle for the Southwest

• The Duke at Fox Documentary

• Audio Interview with Stuart Whitman

• Fox Movietone News

• Vintage Comancheros Comic Book Photo Gallery

• Theatrical Trailers

• 24-page booklet

 

Presentation:

Blu-ray Digibook: BRD x 1

Release Date: May 17, 2011



Movie: 5

The Comancheros is an unremarkable, breezy, though at times oddly violent western, perhaps most famous for being director Michael Curtiz’ last film. It fits a little uncomfortably between far better movies from this most iconic of actors: Rio Bravo, The Horse Soldiers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Longest Day.   Fans of The Duke – and I count myself as one, though I wasn’t at the time – will still find entertainment value in his heroic intentions, even if his deportment was managed in auto-pilot and the storyline stretches believability well beyond the breaking point.


     

 

The title is unusual in that if you didn’t already know its meaning you could easily be misled into thinking these are the good guys. Not so. Comancheros are to Indians as rustlers are to cattle, or at least that’s what they eventually became throughout a good deal of the nineteenth century. From the point of view of the cattle a rustler is just another cowboy, but further along the trail they will eventually get caught in the middle of gunplay and stampede. Comancheros are whites who sell guns and whiskey to the Comanches, pretending to be their friends. You know the rest.

 

Wayne is a Texas Ranger who, with the help of a gambler (Whitman), wanted for murder in two states, the result of duels, tries to upend the plans of Comanchero Graile (Persoff) to sell guns and whiskey to the Comanches, whose love of the beverage is portrayed more insultingly than in any major feature film I can think of. Lee Marvin is a wild and crazy guy and Ina Balin is Graile’s daughter, a wild card in anyone’s deck.


     

 

Characters come and go, leaving us scratching our heads. The romance between Whitman and Balin lacks sufficient development for it to feel compelling for either character. And what the Comancheros are actually up to doesn’t amount to enough excuse for Wayne and Whitman to ferret them out. And while we know that plains indians were often in the habit of simply “taking coup” rather than returning fire, the manner in which the Comanches are dispatched here makes them look like sitting ducks instead of a worthy adversary.

 

Despite Wayne’s presence, in a way this is really Whitman’s movie – or should have been, since just about everything turns on his character and what he does.  Stuart Whitman is not a name that leaps to mind when we think of A-list actors – and, indeed, he had spent many a year doing B-westerns, crime and war dramas on the big and little screen before landing this part in The Comancheros (his second with the duke, all told) Earlier that same year he starred in “The Mark” for which he received a Best Actor Oscar nomination.


     

 

Image: 7/9

Bold color, yes; but thick and oversaturated.  There are stretches of pretty decent sharpness and coherence.  Closeups, especially.  There is also the odd shot that seems taken from a VHS tape: vide the steamboat images at dock.  Overall, however, the image quality is quite good and represents the intended spectacle, especially during those grand vistas that Wayne and Whitman ride through.


     

 

Audio & Music: 6/5

You might think there would be little difference between a 5.1 and a 4.0 audio mix, save the fact that in this case the 5.1 is offered in a lossless format.  You might also anticipate that the 5.1 would have the advantage, both in respect to dialogue clarity (since that’s what the move from 4 to 5 is all about), and overall texture and dynamics.  Alas, such is not the case.  Somehow, focus is lost in the translation.  This is particularly noticeable in the dialogue, which in the 5.1 mix can sound cavernous at times.  Even the music and, to a lesser extent, the effects (gunshots, galloping horses) are strangely limited as well.  It’s a mystery.  Just as it is that Fox didn’t offer the original 4.0 in a lossless format.

 

Elmer Bernstein’s score not only reeks of Magnificent Seven (which he wrote only the year before) it is repetitive, lazy, and oddly cued.  For example, the big theme under the credits is carelessly applied to the comancheros, the duke and the Texas rangers.


     

 

Extras: 8

There are several worthy features here: First, the commentary that initially accompanied the laserdisc, recorded some twenty years ago with actors Stuart Whitman, Nehemiah Persoff, Michael Ansara and Patrick Wayne. Whitman takes the lead here, and his recollections are interesting. More on this overlooked actor and his career can be heard in his separate 12-minute audio interview.

 

Then there are two documentaries, both excellent: “The Comancheros and the Battle for the Southwest”, while beset with far too many (and, at times, irrelevant) clips from this and other westerns, is a fascinating look at the relationship between the Europeans – first the Spanish, then the “Americans” - and the plains Indians of North America, particularly the Comanches. The 24-minute documentary is presented in HD, as are the clips from westerns not yet available in this format - makes the mouth water for Red River, which gets ample play here.


     


“The Duke at Fox” is a 40-minute documentary, also in HD, that covers the prairie with Fox’s most bankable star. Once again, the doc is laced with clips galore, but here they make sense.  I learned a good deal about Wayne here, not least his difficulties with John Huston over “The Barbarian and the Geisha” - a film I have yet to see.  The “Collectible Booklet” is part of the case: Very smart.

 

Recommendation: 6

A very well-packaged Blu-ray from Fox (I wish more titles came this way) of a lesser John Wayne western.  The bonus features are quite good and varied, especially considering the age and relative importance of the movie. Image quality is good, if not exactly demonstration stuff, while the audio is a bit dicey.  If you already know “The Comancheros” you aren’t likely to find a better edition this century.  Otherwise I suggest a rental first.


     

 

Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

May 15, 2011



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