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John Wayne: America's Classic Hero [3 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

Texas Terror
With a 45-minute running time, or thereabouts, Texas Terror was John Wayne's shortest Lone Star/Monogram Western and far from his best. Believing has accidentally killed his best friend (Frank Ball), the sheriff (Wayne) hands over his badge to George "Gabby" Hayes and retreats to the high country. En route to take over her murdered father's ranch, Beth Matthews (Lucille Browne) is witness to a stage robbery (a typical modern Western, the "stage" in Texas Terror is a Ford T touring car). An unshaven, dirty-looking Wayne comes to her rescue, but she thinks he is part of the gang. Vaguely recognizing his voice but nothing else, Beth later hires the now cleaned-up former sheriff as her new foreman and they quickly fall in love. But during a dance, Joe Dickson (LeRoy Mason), the incognito leader of the stage robbers, informs the girl that Wayne is the man thought to have killed her father. Wayne soon learns of Dickson's own culpability in the killing and summons an entire tribe of Indians to help capture him. The typical Hollywood Indians in this film all speak in broken English, Chief Black Eagle actually saying "Ugh!" on one occasion, an incongruous moment in a Western where the heroine arrives in an automobile. Intentional comedy relief is provided by Fern Emmett, a sort of poor man's Margaret Hamilton, and veteran slapstick comedian Jack Duffy, both of whom engage in a supposedly hilarious milking contest. The climactic chase sequence is rather heavily padded with stock footage from the silent era and Yakima Canutt is spotted quite clearly doubling for Wayne. As always, veteran director Robert North Bradbury has a great eye for composition (the film seems to have been shot on locations in the Sierras), but his handling of actors leaves much to be desired. Tight-lipped LeRoy Mason delivers Texas Terror's only solid performance as the villain. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

The Lucky Texan
The third entry in John Wayne's superior Lone Star series for producer Paul Malvern, The Lucky Texan features Wayne as Jerry Mason, a young college graduate who, along with old family friend Jake Benson (George Hayes), locates a secret gold field. Returning to town with their gold, the two friends make the mistake of trusting the local assayer (Lloyd Whitlock) and his equally crooked partner (Yakima Canutt). The villains take a shot at Jake and, believing they killed the old coot, blame young Jerry for the "murder." At his trial, Jerry is delighted to discover his "victim" among the spectators, dressed in a costume formerly used in a local presentation of Charley's Aunt. Usually playing villains in the Lone Star Westerns, George Hayes got an opportunity to practice his later popular Gabby character in this entry. The Lucky Texan also featured several fine examples of director Robert North Bradbury's famous "swish-pan" method, in which characters are brought from one place to another as the camera sweeps over the landscape in a blur. As always, Yakima Canutt doubled both Wayne, Hayes, and several of the villains. In fact, Canutt got to virtually chase himself in a gasoline-powered handcar in the film's exciting finale. In addition to Wayne, Hayes, Canutt, and Whitlock, the Malvern stock company players did their usual fine work, including Earl Dwire as an elderly sheriff, stunt man Ed Parker as the sheriff's crooked son, and Gordon de Main as the local banker. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, 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

Rainbow Valley
A young John Wayne is charged with building a road into the title valley in this routine Western from Monogram. The building project, however, is constantly interrupted by LeRoy Mason and his gang who wants the valley in general and its rich mines in particular free from outside interference. Wayne, who is aided in his quest by grizzled old mail carrier George Hayes (who had yet to earn his famous nickname of "Gabby"), manages not only to build the road but also capture the nasty Mason, a rival for the affections of bleach blonde postmistress Lucile Browne, and his cohort, paroled convict Buffalo Bill Jr. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Lawless Range
In this, his fourth Western for Republic Pictures, John Wayne plays John Middleton, a would-be rodeo rider forsaking his chance of winning the championship in favor of searching for an old family friend who is missing under mysterious circumstances. After carrying out a bit of undercover work with the help of the missing man's pretty niece, Ann Mason (Sheila Mannors), John is ready to join the local ranchers in their fight against unscrupulous banker Frank Carter, aka Butch Martin (Frank McGlynn, Jr.), who is trying to steal their gold rich land. As he had in his earlier Riders of Destiny (1933), John Wayne "sings" a couple of ditties, including "On the Banks of the Sunny San Juan", his unlikely baritone this time supplied by bit player Jack Kirk. Adding to the unusually high musical quotient is the harmony group The Wranglers performing "The Old Dusty Road", none of which makes anyone forget Gene Autry! ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Blue Steel
John Wayne once again goes undercover to catch a wanted outlaw in this average entry in his 1934-1935 Western series for Monogram Pictures. Wayne plays John Carruthers, a U.S. marshal, and his quarry is the Polka Dot Bandit, aka Danti (Yakima Canutt), who has taken off with a 4,000-dollar pay roll. As John soon learns, Danti is in the employ of Malgrove (Edward Peil Sr.), a supposedly upstanding citizen who is secretly trying to starve the good people of Yucca City. Unbeknownst to the townsfolk, a valuable ore runs right through the area and Malgrove is plotting to buy the land on the cheap. Blue Steel was produced at Hollywood's General Service Studios with exteriors filmed at Big Pine, CA. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

The Star Packer
Definitely the most expensive-looking of John Wayne's "Lone Star" westerns, The Star Packer casts "the Duke" as U.S. marshal John Travers. Hoping to flush out a mysterious outlaw chieftain known only as "The Shadow," Travers becomes sheriff of a town where several unsolved murders have occurred. Accompanied by his Indian pal Yak (Yakima Canutt), our hero explores a tunnel leading from the sheriff's office to the outlaws' cave hideout. He manages to ascertain the identity of The Shadow, but first he must rescue heroine Anita (Verna Hillie) from the villain's clutches. As much a horror melodrama as a straightforward western, The Star Packer benefits from the casting of Lone Star "regulars" George (Gabby) Hayes and Yakima Canutt in highly uncharacteristic roles. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Man From Utah
After helping prevent a bank robbery, young drifter John Weston (John Wayne) is assigned by Marshal Higgins (George "Gabby" Hayes to look into a series of suspicious deaths among champion rodeo riders. Weston falls for lovely Marjorie Carter (Polly Ann Young) along the way but she gets jealous when he suddenly shifts his attention to fiery Dolores (Anita Campillo, whose name is misspelled "Compillo" in the onscreen credits). The Mexican charmer, however, is in league with Spike Barton (Edward Peil, Sr.), the brain behind the murders, and Weston's interest is purely business. Like most of John Wayne's "Lone Star" Westerns, The Man from Utah was filmed along California's Kern River. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

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