The Great American Western, Vol. 18 [DVD]

This is an entertaining package of four Western movies, ranging across 30 years of film production, starting with the United Artists release of William McGann's American Empire (1942), in a somewhat soft, rough 16 mm print with scratches and other flaws, including a somewhat noisy soundtrack. The other three movies are all made-for-television productions from the early to mid-'70s, two of them recut episodes of the modern Western series Cade's County, starring Glenn Ford, and one the made-for-television feature The Hanged Man (1974), starring Steve Forrest. The Marshal of Madrid (1972) looks okay, with fair color and decent focus and detail, and surprisingly few flaws or blemishes, though obviously a proper transfer off of a negative source would yield far greater resolution; Sam Cade (1972), by contrast, is filled with horizontal scratches and suffers from missing frames. The Hanged Man, directed by Michael Caffey, is mastered from a very bright print that also has a fair degree of resolution -- there are some small blemishes and scratches, but overall this presentation looks at least as good as this reviewer remembers the movie from its original prime-time ABC run. The cinematographer, Keith C. Smith, apparently tried for a deliberately archaic look reminiscent of the photographs of the period, which translates well in this mastering. Each movie has been given ten chapters, which are listed on an opening menu for each movie, which must be accessed separately and is a little awkward to use until one gets accustomed to it. In keeping with the pre-1953 or television origins of all four titles, each is presented in a full-screen (1.33:1) aspect ratio.
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American Empire
Originally slated for release through Paramount Pictures but ultimately distributed by United Artists, American Empire is a western "special" from Hopalong Cassidy producer Harry "Pop" Sherman. Set during the Reconstruction period, the film stars Richard Dix and Preston S. Foster as Dan Taylor and Paxton Bryce, two longtime friends seeking their fortune in postwar Texas. With the considerable assistance of Dan's sister and Paxton's wife Abby (Frances Gifford), the two comrades establish a thriving cattle business. Alas, Paxton is seized with the ambition to become a emperor in his own domain, thereby alienating himself from Dan and Abby. Only through a profound personal tragedy does Paxton come back to his senses. Ironically, critics in 1942 suggested that the Mexican accent adopted by supporting player Leo Carrillo was more than a little reminiscent of "The Cisco Kid" -- and this was still several years before Carrillo was established as Pancho in the "Cisco" "B"-film and TV series! ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Marshal of Madrid
This 100-minute feature actually consists of two episodes of the series Cade's County, starring Glenn Ford as Sam Cade, the modern-day sheriff of Madrid County, CA, with Edgar Buchanan as his chief deputy. In the first half, Bobby Darin plays a psychopathic ex-con, obsessed with Billy the Kid, who starts to act out episodes in Billy's life in the modern West. Carrying a bazooka as well as Billy's real frontier revolver, he holds up armored cars from horseback, attempts to kill people he thinks betrayed him (and killed John Tunstall), and plans a move on trains and banks. He also involves his estranged wife (Linda Cristal) and the son (Leif Garrett) he didn't know he had in a plot to get revenge on the sheriff who betrayed him -- except that this sheriff is Sam Cade, not Pat Garrett. In the second half, a local bully is stabbed to death and the prime suspect is the Chicano laborer he had just fought with -- but Cade smells a rat when he discovers that the supposed killer was afraid of knives and that the victim never had his out, or even reached for his despite being attacked from the front. He begins digging, with help from a border patrolman (Rudolfo Acosta) and discovers that there's a lot of activity at the ranch where the suspect and the victim worked and lived that doesn't seem right, and too many ties between the victim, the ranch owner (James Gregory) and his lawyer (Simon Scott), and the witnesses, for all the pieces to fit together. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

Sam Cade
Sam Cade was the first feature-length "movie" put together from episodes of Cade's County, the early '70s series starring Glenn Ford as a modern-day sheriff in Madrid County, CA. In the first half, directed by Marvin Chomsky, Cade finds himself targeted for assassination when he's scheduled to testify in the trial of a mob kingpin -- what he doesn't know is that the assassin is one of his oldest friends (Darren McGavin), who is romancing another old friend (Loretta Swit) with a troubled past and using Cade's determination and his investigative skills to set him up for a hit. In the second half, directed by Richard Donner, Cade gets a tip that the mob has planned an assassination on a retired crime boss (Edward Asner) living in the county, who is so bull-headed and distrustful of the law that he won't accept any help or provide any information on who the killers might be, even though he's putting his own daughter (Shelley Fabares) at risk. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

The Hanged Man
Steve Forrest, in his last starring role before moving permanently to series television with S.W.A.T., plays James Devlin, a once-notorious gunman who is wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Through an accident -- though the priest Father Alvaro (Rafael Campos) insists it was divine intervention -- he survives the hanging, barely, and is set free, a death certificate having been duly and lawfully issued by the doctor (William Bryant) who examined the "body." A near walking corpse, with an odd, dark fire in his eyes and a strangely low body temperature and heartbeat, Devlin doesn't know what to do with the rest of his life, however long that may be -- he's got enemies still walking around who would like to finish the job, and neither the doctor nor the priest can tell him how long he might live. Having already reformed before he was convicted, he goes the rest of the way and decides to spend what time he's been given, and use the skills he still has as a gunman and soldier of fortune, on the side of the angels, helping people who need it. He quickly finds himself up to his neck in a deadly land war between an ambitious mining tycoon (Cameron Mitchell) and a young widow (Sharon Acker) for the property she owns. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Leo Carrillo
    Leo Carrillo - Dominique Bouchard
  • Image coming soon
    Preston S. Foster - Paxton Bryce
  • Frances Gifford
    Frances Gifford - Abby Taylor
  • Image coming soon
    Robert H. Barrat - Crowder
  • Jack LaRue
    Jack LaRue - Pierre

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