Classic Westerns Collection [2 Discs] [DVD]
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Overview

Synopsis

Kansas Pacific
Walter Wanger's first production for Allied Artists, Kansas Pacific is more slick and polished than the usual budget western. Set just before the Civil War, the film concerts Kansas Pacific railroad's westward expansion, a project stymied by the sabotage activities of Southern sympathizers. Military officer John Nelson (Sterling Hayden) is assigned to make sure the railroad goes through. The film offers excellent performances from such usually stereotyped players as Barton MacLane, Harry Shannon, Douglas Fowley and James Griffith. Kansas Pacific's leading lady is Eve Miller, best known as Kirk Douglas' vis-a-vis in The Big Trees. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Border Patrol
Though released after Hoppy Serves a Writ, the 1943 Hopalong Cassidy entry Border Patrol was filmed first, to capitalize on America's new "Good Neighbor Policy" with Mexico. Hoppy (William Boyd) and his pals California (Andy Clyde) and Johnny (Jay Kirby), investigate a group of crooks who've been smuggling alien laborers across the border. The villains treat their Mexican help as virtual slaves, killing off anyone who complains. When Hoppy and company invade the illegal work camp, they're subject to a kangaroo court and sentenced to be hanged. But with the help of the Mexican prisoners, our heroes not only escape, but bring the bad guys to justice. Border Patrol features Robert Mitchum in an unbilled bit, but it's difficult to determine whether or not this was his first movie appearance. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Doomed Caravan
This Hopalong Cassidy western finds Hoppy (William Boyd), Lucky (Russell Hayden) and California (Andy Clyde) trying to save Minna Gombell's wagon-freighting line. Bad guys Morris Ankrum and Trevor Bardette (five points to anyone who can tell these mustachioed miscreants apart) plan to sabotage Ankrum's operation so they can take over the franchise. The climax is a rousing wagon chase, which came in handy as stock footage in later years. Ingenue Georgia Hawkins attracted warm praise from reviewers, but she disappeared from films shortly afterward. Co-written by Johnston McCulley of Zorro fame, Doomed Caravan was the 32nd "Hopalong Cassidy" entry. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Riders of the Whistling Pines
Gene Autry's second 1949 release for Columbia was Riders of the Whistling Pines. As was customary for Autry, the title refers to one of the songs heard in the film, rather than the plotline at hand. The villains busy themselves destroying all the timber in a government forest preserve. When Autry steps in to stop the bad guys, they cook up a frame by accusing him of poisoning cattle. Jimmy Lloyd co-stars as an aviator who figures prominently in the action-packed finale. Autry's leading lady this time out is Patricia White, who later gained prominence on TV as Patricia Barry. At 72 minutes, Riders of the Whistling Pines was one of the longest of Autry's Columbia efforts. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Big Show
The Big Show is a modestly budgeted but elaborately turned out Gene Autry western. Autry plays "himself," a famous cowboy star, and his own stunt man. When Autry-the-star reneges on a agreement to make a personal appearance at Dallas' Texas Centennial (represented through newsreel shots), Autry-the-stunt man takes his boss' place. This causes confusion with the ladies, and with a gang of mobsters who were hoping to extort money from Autry-the-star. Ever protective of his own image, Gene Autry saw to it that both of his cinematic alter egos prove worthy of their salt in a climactic fist-fight with the villains. Also appearing in The Big Show is a radio aggregation called the Sons of the Pioneers, featuring future Gene Autry rival Roy Rogers. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Deadly Companions
Sam Peckinpah's first feature as director is this modest Western, taking place in the late 1860s. Yellowleg (Brian Keith), a former sergeant in the Union army, is obsessed with tracking down Turk (Chill Wills), a Rebel army deserter who, during the War Between the States, tried to scalp him as he lay wounded on a battlefield. Yellowleg finds Turk and his sidekick Billy (Steve Cochran) in a cantina and convinces them to help him rob a bank. They journey to Gila City, where the bank is located, and find that another group of bank robbers are also in Gila City to rob the same bank. During a shoot-out with the other bank robbers, Yellowleg accidentally kills the nine-year-old son of dance-hall hostess Kit Tilden (Maureen O'Hara). Remorseful at having caused the death of Kit's son, Yellowleg forces Turk and Billy to accompany him through Apache territory to bury Kit's son at the gravesite of her husband in the ghost town of Siringo. When Billy attacks Kit, Yellowleg throws him out of their camp. Then Turk deserts. As Kit and Yellowleg finally reach Siringo, Yellowleg realizes that he is in love with her. But then, Billy and Turk reappear, having robbed the bank in Gila City, leading to a final confrontation between Yellowleg and Turk. ~ Paul Brenner, 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

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