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Hollywood Westerns [3 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

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Synopsis

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

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

Angel and the Badman
One of John Wayne's most mystical films, Angel and the Badman is also the first production that Wayne personally produced. The star plays a wounded outlaw who is sheltered by a Quaker family. Attracted to the family's angelic daughter Gail Russell, the hard-bitten Wayne undergoes a slow and subtle character transformation; still, he is obsessed with killing the man (Bruce Cabot) who murdered his foster father. The storyline traces not only the regeneration of Wayne, but of the single-minded sheriff (Harry Carey) who'd previously been determined to bring Wayne to justice. Not a big hit in 1947, Angel and the Badman has since become the most frequently telecast of John Wayne's Republic films, thanks to its lapse into Public Domain status in 1974. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Under California Stars
Opening with a brief look at Republic Pictures' back lot in Studio City, CA, this average Roy Rogers songfest settles down to weightier matters after Roy returns to the old homestead to perform a radio broadcast. Peace and quiet, however, are rudely interrupted when someone kidnaps the cowboy crooner's famous horse Trigger and demands a $100,000 ransom for the handsome equine. The perpetrators of this dastardly deed are horse traders "Pop" Jordan (George Lloyd) and Lige McFarland (Wade Crosby), who employ a mole at the Rogers outfit in the person of young Ted Conover (Michael Chapin), Lige's innocent stepson, who will do anything to recover the imperiled Trigger. When not chasing down nasty kidnappers, Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan and The Sons of the Pioneers (featuring Pat Brady) and leading lady Jane Frazee perform "Under California Stars", "King of the Cowboys", and Little Saddle Pals", all by Jack Elliott. Like he had in his initial Republic starring vehicle, Under Western Stars (1938), Roy also sings Gene Autry's dramatic "Dust". Under California Stars was released in Trucolor. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Abilene Town
Dan Mitchell (Randolph Scott) is the town marshal of Abilene, KS, in the turbulent years after the Civil War and the start of the big cattle drives out of Texas. The town is growing faster than a lot of citizens are prepared to deal with it, especially as homesteaders start moving in, fighting for space with the cattlemen. Dan has kept the peace, such as it is, by keeping the saloons, gambling, and guns on one side of Main Street and the shop-owners, farmers, women, and children on the other. He's also been walking a tightrope in his own life, conducting a sometimes turbulent romance with Rita (Ann Dvorak), a saloon singer and co-owner, while also not discouraging the attentions of Sherry Balder (Rhonda Fleming), the "nice girl" daughter of one of the town's leading businessmen, who would love to marry Dan if only he would settle down. A new wave of homesteaders is arriving, and the cattlemen, cowboys, and saloon owners want them driven out and the town kept wide open, fearing the homesteaders' religious beliefs and the arrival of families, which means schools, building, and encroaching "respectability." Trouble breaks out and people are killed, with Dan caught in the middle. Using his guile and a good deal of bravery, and the unwitting help from the cowardly county sheriff (Edgar Buchanan), Dan manages to get the shop owners onto the side of the homesteaders, and plays a dangerous game of divide-and-conquer with the saloon-keepers and cowboys. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

The Mystery of the Hooded Horseman
Based on the notorious Black Legion which had created quite a turmoil in Michigan a few years earlier, screenwriter Edmund Kelso and director Al Taylor crafted one of the better Tex Ritter musical Westerns. Filmed on location at Kernville, California, The Mystery of the Hooded Horsemen was made almost serial-style, except that this time the villains wore the masks instead of the hero. A gang of hooded riders is terrorizing the local ranchers and even shoots kindly old Tom Wilson (Lafe McKee) in cold blood. Before he expires, Tom begs Tex Martin (Ritter) and his sidekick Stubby (Horace Murphy) to help his partner, Farley (Joseph W. Girard), save their mine. The supposed leader of the riders, Blackie (Charles King), gets Tex in hot water with the sheriff (Earl Dwire) but assisted by old Tom Wilson's pretty daughter Nancy (Iris Meredith), the singing cowboy nevertheless manages not only to bring Blackie to justice but also reveal the identity of the real brain behind the terror. The Mystery of the Hooded Horsemen proved the first Ritter Western to open on Broadway in New York City and the sometimes overbearing critic from the New York Times, John T. McManus, was charmed enough to term it "refreshing." ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

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