Saturday, March 17, 2012

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.21

Comin’ Round the Mountain (1936)

Gene Autry is a mail carrier who is robbed and his horse killed, and he is left to die out in the middle of the desert, but he manages to save a new horse named “El Diablo” from a pack of wolves. I knew wolves were badasses, but I didn’t realize that they would try to kill and eat a live horse. Anyway, El Diablo is not initially friendly, but Autry manages to tame him in insane fashion, grabbing him and holding on like the greatest bullrider in history. He rides out to Ann Rutherford’s horse ranch, as part of the mail stolen was a bundle of cash she needs to save her ranch. Autry then aids her in a horse race against the evil horse rancher that masterminded the robbery. Life is fucking crazy sometimes.

The movie is not bogged down with too many songs. The song “Chiquita” that Autry sings to the adorable Rutherford is pretty good, but there is a “comedic” song sung by a “bullfighter” that the movie stops for in the middle. However, the resulting bullfight against two guys wearing a bullsuit is amusing. Then there’s the title track sung by Autry in the beginning, a song I can’t stand for some reason. As Eagle Feather says after hearing it, “white men make too much noise”. You tell ‘em Mr. Feather.

Transfer is excellent, except for a night scene that is riddled with blocky artifacts (I guess the darkness of the scene screwed up the compression or something). Never released on home video. This appears to just have recently been booted off of Netflix, but Gene Autry has a ton of other movies on Netflix instant, a few of which have never been released on home video, and some others that have only been released on VHS.

The Savage (1952)

Evil Indians attack a wagon train, killing everyone except for a young boy, before being chased off by Sioux Indians. The Sioux save the boy and raise him, and he grows up to be a Sioux version of Charlton Heston (shirtless, of course). There is an impending war between the Sioux and Heston’s former white society, and this leads to a lot of debates about the dividing line between an Indian and a white man, nature vs. nurture, etc. Interestingly, Heston insists that he has the heart of a Sioux, and that makes him a true Indian. Even so, he is forced to become a peacemaker of sorts between the whites and the Sioux. Some well staged fight scenes and nice photography, and there is an attempt to humanize Indians and debate the nature of race and tribe. However, “debate” is the operative word, with lots of standing around and talking about what it means to be a Sioux and what it means to be white.

Technicolor transfer is a little dull, but is very good otherwise. Never released on home video. Heston also stars in Pony Express (1953), which is on Netflix instant and was only released on VHS.

The Gambler Wore a Gun (1961)

Jim Davis plays a professional gambler that tries to go straight by buying a ranch through the mail. On the trip to the ranch, he happens upon a man that was lynched and a marshal that was knocked unconscious. The marshal tells Jim that the lynched man was the man from which he bought the ranch. Meanwhile, the former ranch owners son and daughter are being threatened by four cattle rustlers who also want control of the ranch, claiming that their father made a deal with them and that he was also part of an illegal rustling scheme. Davis is forced to investigate to stake his claim in the ranch, and is also framed for murder at one point, raising the stakes. The Gambler Wore a Gun could have been a bland “misfit goes good by taking on bad guys” story, but instead, it doesn’t show its hand right off the bat and maintains interest with well written characters. Very well acted too, except for the guy that plays the ranch owner’s son; he tries a bit too hard in an “aww shucks” kind of way.

Excellent transfer, and never released on home video. Jim David also starred in Noose For a Gunman (1960), which is also on Netflix instant and never saw a home video release.

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