Though Hollywood has practically turned its back on the western genre, sagebrush sagas are still popular on video. In fact, several westerns have just hit the shelves of video stores.
One of the greatest westerns of all time, George Stevens’ 1953 classic “Shane,” has been digitally remastered and restored by Paramount Home Video ($10) for its 45th anniversary. Loyal Grigg’s Oscar-winning Technicolor cinematography is vibrant and breathtakingly beautiful. The restored soundtrack is crisp and clear. Alan Ladd, Jack Palance, Jean Arthur (in her last film) and Van Heflin star in this warm, moving drama about a retired gunfighter and drifter who helps a struggling family. A must-have for any film buff.
Universal Home Video has just added four new titles ($15 each) to its “Western Collection” ($15).
The best of the lot is 1946’s “Canyon Passage,” a sturdy, action-packed horse opera starring the always wonderful Dana Andrews as a pack-mule express owner; Brian Donlevy as a gambler; Susan Hayward as his fiancee; and Ward Bond as the baddie. Legendary singer-composer Hoagy Carmichael also is on hand to sing the Oscar-nominated standard “Ole Buttermilk Sky.”
Raoul Walsh’s “The Lawless Breed,” from 1952, is a surprisingly strong little western about famed outlaw John Wesley Hardin. Rock Hudson is quite impressive in one of his first leading roles as the outlaw. The film is based on Hardin’s own account of his life, published after his release from prison in 1896. Julie Adams also stars.
There’s nothing exceptional about 1951’s “Tomahawk,” save for the fact that its protagonist is the legendary trapper and guide (and Indian sympathizer) Jim Bridger (Heflin). Yvonne DeCarlo, Preston Foster, Jack Oakie and Rock Hudson also star.
Beefcake Jeff Chandler was generally wasted in a series of inane films for Universal during the ‘50s. “Man in the Shadow,” a contemporary western from 1957, is slightly better than most Chandler vehicles. The rugged actor gets a chance to do some real emoting as a small-town sheriff who takes on a powerful landowner (a hammy Orson Welles ) after the evil baron covers up the murder of one of his Latino workers.
New from Anchor Bay is a digitally remastered, letter-boxed edition of the underrated 1972 film “Junior Bonner” ($15). Sam Peckinpah’s most gentle, genial film, “Junior Bonner” stars a perfectly cast Steve McQueen as an aging rodeo star who comes home for a competition. Joe Don Baker plays Bonner’s upwardly mobile, obnoxious brother and Ida Lupino is pretty terrific as his mom. Robert Preston steals the show as Bonner’s randy dad who dreams of getting rich in Australia. A quiet gem.
Anchor Bay’s other restored, letter-boxed release ($15) is the atrocious 1968 British-made western “Shalako.” Sean Connery, who sounds like he’s still playing James Bond, seems ill at ease on the frontier in this lame adaptation of a Louis L’Amour story about a group of snobby Europeans, on a hunting expedition in the West, who are attacked by Indians. Brigitte Bardot, now an ardent animal rights activist, plays one of the hunters.
“The Treasure of Ruby Hills” (Monument, $10) is another dreadful adaptation of a L’Amour story. This low-budget snooze from 1955 about range warfare stars Zachary Scott, Carole Mathews and Barton MacLane.
Robert Mitchum fans might want to check out the so-so 1969 western “Young Billy Young” (MGM, $15). Mitchum plays a tough sheriff, out to find his son’s killer, who teams up with a young drifter (Robert Walker Jr.) who is fast on the draw. Angie Dickinson also stars.
For the kids, there’s the adorable “Wishbone’s Dog Days of the West” (Lyrick, $15). Soccer, the Jack Russell terrier who plays the literary-minded pooch on PBS’ award-winning series “Wishbone,” stars as the heroic “Long Bill” Longley in this clever western adventure based on three O. Henry stories.