The Great American Western, Vol. 11 [2 Discs] [DVD]
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Overview

Special Features

  • Digitally mastered
  • Interactive menus
  • Chapter selections
  • Digitally enhanced audio 5.1

Synopsis

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

To the Last Man
Previously filmed in 1923, Zane Grey's To the Last Man manages to pack plenty of A-level production values into what was essentially a B-picture budget. In the years following the Civil War, Kentucky man Lynn Hayden (Randolph Scott) moves his family to Nevada, partly to start life anew, but mostly to leave behind the bloody family feud between the Haydens and the Colbys. This, alas, is not to be: once in Nevada, Hayden lands in the middle of a war between cattlemen and sheepherders -- a war involving the same two families. The film's title is grimly accurate: virtually no one is left standing at the end of the film. The superb supporting cast includes Esther Ralston as heroine Ellen Colby (seen to excellent advantage in a semi-nude swimming sequence!), Jack LaRue and Noah Beery Sr. as the slimy villains, and Shirley Temple in a small part. In addition to its many other plusses, To the Last Man introduces a novel method of billing the actors: each player is introduced by name as he or she appears on-screen. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Rage at Dawn
Since lapsing into public domain, Rage at Dawn has become one of the most readily available of Randolph Scott's westerns. Based on the exploits of the infamous Reno gang, the film casts Scott as a federal agent assigned to squelch the Renos once and for all. After staging a few phony train robberies, Scott is accepted into the gang. While posing as a criminal, he discovers that the Renos are able to operate freely because they've paid off several important local officials. Once he's managed to round up the surviving gang members, Scott must contend with a self-righteous lynch mob led by Howard Petrie. Mala Powers is the leading lady in Rage at Dawn, while the dreaded Reno boys are convincingly enacted by J. Carroll Naish, Forrest Tucker, Myron Healey and Denver Pyle. ~ Hal Erickson, 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

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 Fighting Westerner
Randolph Scott stars in this adequate Zane Grey adaptation. Lawman Larry Sutton (Scott) is assigned to solve a series of murders occurring at a radium mine. Among the suspects is mine owner Mrs. Borg, played by legendary Broadway star Leslie Carter in a rare film appearance. The key to the mystery would seem to be a sinister Chinese gent named Ling Yat (Willie Fung), but he proves to be one of many red herrings. Hoping to beat Sutton to the solution is local sheriff Tex Murdock, played by veteran vaudevillian Chic Sale. With so much high-powered talent, it's small wonder that many reviewers failed to mention the ingenue, a young actress named Anne Sheridan. A remake of the 1922 film Golden Dreams (the original title of the Zane Grey novel), Rocky Mountain Mystery was reissued as Vanishing Pioneer. ~ 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

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