10 Movie Western Pack, Vol. 1 [2 Discs] [DVD]

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The Over-the-Hill Gang
One of the better and more diverting of ABC's first full season of made-for-television movies, The Over-the-Hill Gang was a low-budget Western with a gimmick: Get a bunch of elderly actors, known either for their leading roles in the 1930s, or for playing comic sidekicks (and Walter Brennan was a lot of both categories) through the 1950s, and put them together in a plot. The result was this enjoyable oater about a quartet of retired Texas Rangers (Pat O'Brien, Walter Brennan, Chill Wills, Edgar Buchanan) who take on the corrupt mayor (Edward Andrews) of a small Nevada town where O'Brien's daughter (Kris Nelson) and newspaper editor son-in-law (Rick Nelson) live. Jack Elam represents the bad guys' muscle with his usual threatening aplomb, and Andy Devine gets a lot of mileage out of his role as a corrupt, inept judge. The other surprise in the cast is Gypsy Rose Lee, looking radiant as ever, portraying an admirer of the former rangers, in what was her final screen appearance, and such familiar old faces as Myron Healey, William Benedict, and Elmira Sessions in supporting roles. When O'Brien and company realize that they're no longer fast enough to do the job with guns, they decide to use their wits instead, outsmarting and outflanking the villains. The pacing by director Jean Yarbrough (whose own career went back to the 1920s, and whose last film this was) is a little leisurely, but the script is fairly clever and it's a lot of fun watching the veteran actors chewing up the scenery, with Devine having the most fun of all in an unusual role as a villain. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

The Decoy
His in-laws brutally murdered and his life-long best friend convicted of committing the unforgivable crime, a conflicted deputy agrees to escort the condemned man to the gallows as a group of ruthless killers attempts to ensure that they never reach their intended destination. As Deputy John Cooper (Justin Kreinbrink) struggles with his desire to exact personal justice against his mute friend Martin Lowery (Kevin Market) during their trip to Lowery's appointment with the hangman, the sudden appearance of some sadistic bandits leads the lawman to suspect that things may not be what they appear. As the truth about the heinous double homicide slowly comes to light, Deputy Cooper gradually begins to realize that Lowery harbors a secret that some believe is worth killing for. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

A down-and-dirty town is forced to shape up when a new sheriff (Clint Walker) comes to town. However, when a scheme is launched to destroy the lawman's authority, he must discover the perpetrators and preserve his reputation. ~ Iotis Erlewine, Rovi

Once Upon a Texas Train
The made-for-TV Once Upon a Texas Train offers us the once-in-a-lifetime teaming of Richard Widmark, Willie Nelson and Angie Dickinson. Nelson plays a veteran outlaw who robs a bank less than 6 hours after being paroled from jail. He uses the money to reunite his old gang, then sets about to repeat the train robbery that had gotten him arrested 20 years earlier. This time, however, Nelson is himself targetted for theft by a young, hungrier band of desperadoes. Widmark plays the lawman who caught Nelson before and intends to do so again. Written and directed by the reliable Burt Kennedy, Once Upon a Texas Train premiered January 3, 1988. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Gatling Gun
This Western presents a fictionalized account of the ways in which the Gatling gun was created. Also chronicled are its tremendous effects on the great frontier. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi

The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again
The Over the Hill Gang Rides Again is a TV-movie sequel to 1969's ratings-grabbing The Over the Hill Gang, which told of a group of retired Texas Rangers rallying to save their small town from criminals. In the sequel, the gang --Walter Brennan, Edgar Buchanan, Andy Devine, and Chill Wills (Pat O'Brien, seen in the first film, is absent this time around) -- team up to rehabilitate Fred Astaire, cast against type as The Baltimore Kid, a one-time ranger who has become a town drunk. Astaire is restored to the job of marshal of Waco, while the other old-timers end up as his deputies. Harmless fun for an undiscerning audience, Over the Hill Gang Rides Again lacks the easygoing charm of the original film. Both Over the Hill Gang entries, by the way, were designed as pilots for an unsold weekly series. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Dawn Rider
An average entry in the otherwise above-average Monogram/"Lone Star" Western series starring John Wayne, this film is noteworthy for containing one of the last screen appearances of Joseph De Grasse, a major silent screen actor-director, who -- with his screenwriter wife Ida May Park -- created scores of well-received Universal melodramas in the 1910s. De Grasse appears all too briefly here as Wayne's father, murdered during a robbery of his express office. Wayne, playing John Mason, chases after the killer, an outlaw whose face is hidden behind a polka dot neckerchief. Mason is injured during the chase and brought to the home of Alice Gordon (Marion Burns) by newfound friend Ben McClure (Reed Howes). Nursed back to health by Alice, with whom he is falling in love, Mason sets a trap for the killer and his gang by announcing that he is guarding a valuable gold shipment. The killer is revealed to be Rudd, Alice's brother (Dennis Moore, here billed "Denny Meadow"), whom John challenges to a duel. Feeling betrayed by Mason's love for Alice, Ben secretly substitutes the bullets in his former friend's gun with blanks. Persuaded by Alice that John has done nothing untoward, a repentant Ben arrives just in time to save his friend from certain death but is himself felled by a bullet fired by villainous barkeep Yakima Canutt in a final, well-staged, shootout. What there is of comic relief in this rather dour Western is provided by gangly Nelson McDowell, an actor seemingly born to portray comic undertakers, which is exactly what he plays here. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

The Desert Trail
John Wayne's easy-going charm truly began to manifest itself in this, one of his later "Lone Star" Westerns for Monogram. Falsely accused of killing the paymaster (Henry Hall) of the Rattlesnake Gulch rodeo, John Scott (Wayne) and his girl-chasing partner Kansas Charlie (Eddy Chandler) trail the real killer, Pete (Al Ferguson), and his unwilling underling Jim (Paul Fix) to Poker City. Jim wants to go straight, but Pete blackmails him into robbing the stagecoach. John and Kansas, who are known in town as Jones and the Reverend Smith, are once again accused of the crime, but Jim helps them escape from jail. When the young bandit refuses to commit bank robbery, Pete shoots him in cold blood. The villain is caught by John and Kansas, whom Jim has cleared of all crimes on his deathbed. Besides one of Wayne's better early performances, The Desert Trail -- whose title bears no close scrutiny -- also benefitted from the presence of Frank Capra-regular Eddy Chandler, a rotund comic actor whose sparring here with Wayne is first-rate all the way. Paul Fix is equally good as the outlaw with a conscience and Mary Kornman, of Our Gang fame, is tolerable as the obligatory heroine. The Desert Trail was directed with easy assurance by the veteran Lewis D. Collins, who for some reason billed himself "Cullin Lewis." ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Sitting Bull
This western offers one of Hollywood's more historically accurate accounts of the Battle of Little Big Horn. The story centers on a major in the cavalry who believes the Indians have the same rights as other Americans. Despite his efforts to stop Custer from embarking on his ill-fated mission, the general carries on. Later the major is court-marshaled for being a traitor and ends up sentenced to die. Fortunately, Sitting Bull sends a petition to the President and pleads for the good major's pardon. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi

The Proud and the Damned
Will (Chuck Connors) leads a group of American Civil War veterans into San Carlos, Columbia. The local mayor (Cesar Romero) welcomes the quintet, unaware they are scouting out the town for Columbian General Martinez (Andre Maruis). Soon the visitors are reveling with gypsies Mila (Anita Quinn) and Ramon (Jose Greco). Will and Mila end up making love, much to the dismay of the jealous Ramon. Will shoots and kills the hotheaded Ramon, and the mayor is called on to restore order. The five Americans are held for questioning following the murder. When the scouts fail to return to the General, the storm clouds of war gather over the once-peaceful town. Mila becomes ostracized by the townsfolk for her brazen behavior that resulted in Ramon's death. The mayor considers letting Will and Mila leave town in an effort to avoid further bloodshed. ~ Dan Pavlides, Rovi

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