Stranger on Horseback (1955) DVD Jun 30, 2010 22:02:45 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on Jun 30, 2010 22:02:45 GMT -5
Sometimes little "B" movies turned out to be better than the bigger budget "A" movies that the major studios were releasing.
It didn't happen often, but sometimes it did.
One of those superior "B" movies was United Artists' Stranger on Horseback, starring Joel McCrea and directed by Jaques Tourneur. In only 66 minutes Stranger on Horseback actually managed to develop it's characters pretty darned well, and the movie actually had a solid story and good dialogue. Jaques Tourneur, who made his name directing dark Horror/Noir films, did a fine job directing this movie. The cast is remarkably good for a film of this budget. Included in the cast are Kevin McCarthy (who is quite good as the slimy Tom Bannerman), John Carradine, and John McIntire - all well known and well respected actors. The amount of location shooting done for the film is also surprising for a "B" Western (it was shot, not in California, but in Sedona, Arizona).
The story itself is an interesting variation on the High Noon theme. Here, instead of a lone sheriff it's a lone federal judge. He is well known for carrying a gun and issuing arrest warrants when the local sheriff or marshall wouldn't do so. Joel McCrea does a very good job of playing judge Richard Thorne. His no-nonsense acting style wasn't too far removed from that of Jack Webb's (of course, McCrea's film career predated Webb's by over a decade). He didn't have great acting range, but within his range he was always good - sometimes very good. His acting style was ideally suited for Westerns, and that's how he finished his career - with a solid decade in the old west.
Stranger on Horseback follows a well known theme - a local family practically owns a town, and one or more members of the family have taken advantage of that power and put themselves above the law. McCrea's Judge Thorne knows little fear, and has no problem taking on the family that is backed up by more than half of the townspeople (many of them well armed). Thorne does have the backing of the local sheriff, but not until he arrests the son of the family patriarch himself.
There are just enough twists and turns to make the movie seem like a complete theatrical story (as opposed to an hour long TV episode), and the script is a little better than average for what Hollywood put out at the time.
Stranger on Horseback may not be a Rio Bravo or a Warlock or any of a couple dozen legendary Westerns from that era, but it's not all that far off, either. It is a very good movie and is well worth the time for any fan of the Western genre.
As for VCI's DVD they did a fine job with what they had to work with. They managed to find a print at the British Film Institute, and it was in fairly good shape. Unfortunately, fairly good means that there are some flaws. First, the picture is a little soft. It's not so soft as to hurt the viewing experience, but it isn't as sharp as a major studio release would be. Second, the color is all over the place. At times the print is a little overly reddish, while for a majority of the movie the color looks just slightly faded (very slightly). Again, it isn't enough to really hurt the viewing experience, but the print clearly shows it's age. Considering all that against the fact that this movie hasn't been seen much in decades and VCI doesn't have the kind of funds required for a major restoration, they did a rather commendable job considering that this was the only print of the movie available to them. The fact that this movie is available on DVD in anamorphic widescreen is a pleasant surprise in an of itself.
There are some nice extras on the disc, too, including two episodes of McCrea's great radio show, Tales of the Texas Rangers, a couple audio documentaries, and the original theatrical trailer.
All in all this is a nice package - a decent DVD release of a very good film that many thought was lost.
Movie - 4/5
DVD - 3.75/5