The Comancheros Blu-ray Review
Fox present The Comancheros in its original 2.35:1 aspect and deliver it via AVC.
You will notice straight-away that the film's grain is intact, although it can look a touch rough and clumpy at times. This thickening of the grain does not distract at all, and adds quite some texture to the image. The overall image can be soft, with some objects in the distance and at the periphery of the frame losing integrity and distinction. As is usual, there are some shots that suddenly take on a far grubbier appearance, but on the whole, this is a bright and clean and cheerful looking transfer.
Colours are thick and bright. The film is pushed towards the orange side of things, and the transfer upholds this … and then some. Reds are powerfully bold. Look at Pilar's sleeves in the Comanchero encampment, they positively throb from the screen. But the rest of the palette is vivid too. Vivid … yet also pleasantly old looking. In other words, the image does not seem horribly brightened by artificial means. Skin-tones are burnished and swarthy, the epic landscapes fill the frame in vast scorched swathes. There is a possibility that you could come away from this with a sun-tan, yourself.
Detail is certainly worthwhile when compared to the other versions that I have of this film. There may not be too much close-up texture on faces – and we have the makeup and the photography to thank for this, not any overt DNR - but clothing, weapons, set-design, rock walls and whatnot yield up some rewards. There is a sense of greater depth afforded the hi-def image too, and this can only be a good thing. Those huge landscapes are the most obvious beneficiary – the wagon being flanked by Comanche on the ridges, Patrick Wayne looking down into an endless valley from a cliff-top, and the beautiful sight of the widow's ranch up in the hills which presents a terrific fore, middle and background composition of rustic harmony - but pay attention to the interiors too, such as the rooms aboard the paddle-steamer, the long shots of the saloons and any of the scenes in Graille's mansion. This enhanced dimensionality provides The Comancheros with a splendidly cinematic scope that has you genuinely feeling that your own walls have been knocked down and opened-out onto such sights.
Aiding the sense of depth and vitality, we get strong blacks that provide plenty of shadow-play, especially during the poker-playing session that brings Tully Crow and Jake Cutter to a fatal showdown. The day-for-night shooting is extremely brief, but the darker scenes are certainly richer and more atmospheric than I've seen them look before. Contrast is good for the majority of the film, although there are times when whites and highlights can gleam a little.
With such a wide vista to play with and lots of sweeping shots that pan across it, you would possibly expect to see some judder or aliasing taking place. But the image is smooth and fluid at all times. I did spot some very slight aliasing a couple of times, but nothing to worry about. And nor is there any horrible edge enhancement, although with some of the silhouetted objects you may have reason to suspect otherwise – trust me, there is no ringing or haloing that isn't a part of the source lighting and photography.
A great and very vibrant image from a faithful-looking transfer.
Whilst hardly a riotous all-round affair, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that Fox bestow The Comancheros is fairly decent and enjoyable. It won't necessarily wow anyone, but it shouldn't disappoint either. The original 4-track stereo mix has been, by the sound of things, well-treated and well-deployed here in a DD 4.0 surround option. Of the two tracks, though, I preferred the smoother feel of the lossless track, which managed to even-out the dialogue across the front a little from the slightly more brittle sound of the DD alternative. Anyway, you can't complain when Fox have given you the option, can you?
The score is brought forth with the sort of warm and full-throated vigour that you would expect of it. Bernstein's orchestra sounds unbridled by too many effects of age, with a heavy surge of upbeat brassy bombast and heavy, energetic percussion. The music is, on occasion, allowed to reach around to the rear speakers - and this isn't merely bleed-through – which adds a lot to the overall depth and full-flowing vigour of the score. The mariachi band that strikes up during the festivities at the Comanchero camp comes bustling across with zest and clarity too. Listen out for the sound of the castanets and the drumming of heels on the floorboards during this shindig, as well.
The action scenes gain some aggression from the bass, which provides some decent, if understandably limited pounding to the horses' hooves and gives some weight and heft to the odd explosion, or overturning wagon. Flicking between the two tracks, you can hear that gunshots are sharper and cleaner when hailing from the DTS stable. The swirling thunder of furious Indian assaults also possess more depth and a greater, more dynamic reach across the front. The terrified scream of a woman when she spies the hostiles charging towards the ranch has more of a primal edge to it. Oh, and before I forget, there are a couple of great and quite painful-sounding thuds to the head, especially the rifle-butt to poor Paul Regret and the pistol-whipping that the tough Mexican guard gets.
Don't expect too much from the lossless track, but this certainly seems to deliver the best experience. It hasn't been stupidly bolstered or enhanced and it makes an already well-designed soundmix just that little bit more dynamic and immersive.
I have to say that I was quite surprised to discover the wealth of goodies on offer here to help celebrate the 50th birthday of Curtiz's film.
First up, the package is wonderfully presented in a 24-book with fine cover-art and a sumptuous selection of stills decorating the cast and director profiles that you will find within. There is no proper critique of the film, itself, nor anything in the way of production trivia, but this is a nice manner in which to house the disc, nevertheless.
We get a joint commentary from Stuart Whitman, Nehemiah Persoff, Michael Ansara and Patrick Wayne. Each participant discusses how he got into the film, how he prepared and how much fun he had working with the Duke and with Michael Curtiz. These guys are not recorded together, which is obviously a shame, and nor is the chat-track all that scene specific, which is another shame. In fact, the speakers meander about all over the place. Wayne talks about his father's converted minesweeper and sailing across the seven seas, for instance. But this is still very interesting stuff from a clutch of people who have never received the credit that they are due. They worked during a fascinating time in Hollywood and their anecdotes are well worth listening to, especially about Jack Elam's card-playing, for instance.
A 24-minute documentary probes the history behind the real gun-running bandits and Indian uprisings in The Comancheros and the Battle for the American Southwest. This is fine stuff for armchair enthusiasts (like me) and the feature liberally uses footage from Curtiz's film to illustrate their points.
We get the fantastic, though occasionally fawning two-part documentary, The Duke At Fox (40 min overall), which takes a look at how Wayne made it into the industry, met with John Ford and then grew into the towering cinematic icon that we all know and a lot of us still love. There are some nice vintage photos and some very early screen appearances highlighted from the humble beginnings of his career, especially scenes from the classic primitive widescreen production (shot in “Grandeur”) The Big Trail from Raoul Walsh. Good and vastly knowledgeable authorities chart the rising star's progress, among them his son Ethan, and his wife, Pilar. Lots of great scenes flicker through this tour of how the fortunes of both Wayne and Fox fared over the decades. Many marvellous directors are name-checked and the trials and tribulations of fame are dissected. Hats off for this smart and well produced documentary.
It is great to see the vintage Comancheros Comic Book Gallery. After a brief intro, we can then read all 95 vibrant pages of the graphic adaptation of the movie, with terrific likenesses of the characters and a couple of neat narrative deviations. Excellent.
Stuart Whitman airs some memories and recollections of his life in the business in a 12-minute audio-only interview entitled A Conversation With Stuart Whitman.
Then we get to see the film's US and Spanish theatrical trailers and a little 52-second curio that shows Claude King and Tillman Franks receiving their awards for the title song of The Comancheros.
All in all this is a very enjoyable collection of extras that really bolster the 50th Anniversary release of the rousing crowd-pleaser.
After the po-faced patriotism of The Alamo, John Wayne made the transition from the ever-stoic and belligerent characters that had been his bread-and-butter for years to the more relaxed and affable genre icon that would come to dominate his future roles with the charismatic Texas Ranger he played in The Comancheros. Together with excellent sidekick support from Stuart Whitman, he would re-fashion the buddy-buddy picture for his ailing friend, director Michael Curtiz, and take the conventional American Western out in a rip-roaring blaze of glory.
The story is episodic and suffers from an inferior first half, but once The Comancheros picks up the pace, things get funny and action-packed and hugely entertaining in that ebullient, colourful and larger-than-life fashion that we all adore. Elmer Bernstein digs into his musical saddlebag and hauls out another classic and eminently hummable main theme. And a tremendous cameo from Lee Marvin is another very welcome highlight in a movie that fairly gallops along thtough some of the most majestic scenery that the South has to offer.
Fans will also warm to the transfer that Fox has given the film on its 50th Anniversary. The colours are proud and the detail rewarding within that fabulously wide frame. The original soundmix is well treated by a Dolby Digital 4.0 surround track, but slightly improved-upon by a DTS-HD MA 5.1 option that provides a touch more vigour as when required. And the lavishly housed package gains more praise for its assortment of extra features. A great chat-track combined with a detailed and fascinating documentary on the Duke vie happily with the film as seen in its original comic-book adaptation and an interesting piece on the real-life historical background to the drama.
The Duke is definitely enjoying a rebirth on Blu-ray, and The Comancheros is a terrific way to celebrate it.
Well recommended, folks!
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