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American Classic Western Collection, Vol. 1 [2 Discs] [DVD]

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Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe Trail, Errol Flynn's third western, has precisely nothing to do with the titular trail. Instead, the film is a simplistic retelling of the John Brown legend, with Raymond Massey playing the famed abolitionist. The events leading up to the bloody confrontation between Brown and the US Army at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, are treated in a painstakingly even-handed fashion: Brown's desire to free the slaves is "right" but his methods are "wrong." Whenever the leading characters are asked about their own feelings towards slavery, the response is along the noncommittal lines of "A lot of people are asking those questions," "I don't have the answer to that," and so forth. Before we get to the meat of the story, we are treated to a great deal of byplay between West Point graduates Jeb Stuart (Flynn) and George Armstrong Custer (Ronald Reagan), who carry on a friendly rivalry over the affections of one Kit Carson Halliday (Olivia DeHavilland). Just so we know that the picture is meant to be a follow-up to Warners' Dodge City and Virginia City, Flynn is saddled with Alan Hale and "Big Boy" Williams, his comic sidekicks from those earlier films. Despite its muddled point of view, Santa Fe Trail is often breathtaking entertainment, excitingly staged by director Michael Curtiz. The film's public domain status has made Santa Fe Trail one of the most easily accessible of Errol Flynn's Warner Bros. vehicles. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Vengeance Valley
The old "Cain and Abel" plot device is redefined within Western terms in MGM's Vengeance Valley. Burt Lancaster stars as ranch-hand Owen Daybright, who has been raised as a son by rancher Arch Stroble (Ray Collins). Stroble's natural son Lee (Robert Walker) has always been envious of Owen, who in turn has spent most of his life pulling Lee out of trouble and keeping the boy's misdeeds a secret from the elder Stroble. When Lee fathers an illegitimate child, he tries to shift the responsibility on Owen, leading to a life-threatening confrontation with the vengeance-seeking brothers of the baby's mother (Sally Forrest). There's plenty more plot twists before virtue finally triumphs. Joanne Dru co-stars as Lee's long-suffering wife Jen, who harbors a secret yen for Owen. Since lapsing into public domain, Vengeance Valley has shown up with increasing frequency on cable television; it has also been made available in a narrated version for the visually impaired. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

One-Eyed Jacks
Western bandit Kid Rio (Marlon Brando) is betrayed by his partner, Dad Longworth (Karl Malden). Escaping from prison, Rio learns that Longworth has become a wealthy and influential lawman. Rio thirsts for revenge, but bides his time, waiting for the right moment to strike. In the meantime, Rio spitefully seduces Longworth's adopted daughter, Louisa (Pina Pellicer). After killing a man in self-defense, Rio is publicly whipped by the powerful Longworth. When Rio's old gang accidentally kills a child during another holdup, Longworth has the perfect excuse to eliminate the troublesome Rio once and for all by hanging him. But that's not what happens at all. Stripped to its fundamentals, One-Eyed Jacks is a workable Western, worthy of perhaps 90 minutes' running time. But when Marlon Brando succeeded Stanley Kubrick in the director's chair, he allowed the film's 60-day shooting schedule to stretch into six months, and delivered a finished product running in excess of four hours. The current 141-minute version of One-Eyed Jacks isn't as ponderous as some critics have claimed, but it's still too much of a good thing. While Brando the director isn't precisely in the Kubrick class, Brando the actor delivers one of his finest and most focused performances (though he is upstaged throughout by Karl Malden). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Outlaw
Perhaps Hollywood's greatest success du scandal of the 1940s, this odd psychological Western became a box office hit largely thanks to the costuming of leading lady Jane Russell (or, more accurately, its relative absence). Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel) and Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) are close friends until lawman Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell) attempts to ambush Billy and put him behind bars. Doc brings Billy to his ranch to hide out, but when Billy meets Doc's mistress Rio (Russell), he's instantly attracted to the buxom beauty. An intense chemistry quickly grows between them, despite the fact that Billy murdered Rio's brother. Billy and Rio secretly marry, but their love runs hot and cold, and soon Billy, Doc, and Rio are fighting among themselves as they're chased through the desert by Garrett and his posse. Director Howard Hawks and screenwriter Ben Hecht both worked on The Outlaw, but they went uncredited after disputes with the legendarily difficult financier (and sometimes producer/director) Howard Hughes, whose battles with the censors resulted in the film spending three years on the shelf before finally gaining wide release in a cut version in 1946. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Errol Flynn
    Errol Flynn - Jeb Stuart
  • Olivia de Havilland
    Olivia de Havilland - Kit Carson Halliday
  • Raymond Massey
    Raymond Massey - John Brown
  • Ronald Reagan
    Ronald Reagan - George Armstrong Custer
  • Alan Hale
    Alan Hale - Tex Bell
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