The DVD Report #269

John Ford did not set out to make a cavalry trilogy, but because three films he made between 1948 and 1950 with John Wayne were about the U.S. Cavalry, those films have ever since been linked together as Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy.

In point of fact, Wayne plays the same character in 1948’s Fort Apache and 1950’s Rio Grande, both of which were shot in black and white, but not in 1949’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, which won an Oscar for its magnificent color cinematography.

The hugely successful Rio Grande, newly released by Olive Films on Blu-ray and standard DVD, was only made by Ford in an agreement with Republic Pictures to finance Ford’s pet project, 1952’s The Quiet Man. Republic’s Herbert J. Yates, like all the studios heads of the day, thought nobody would want to see The Quiet Man and would only provide the financing for Ford’s color location shooting of the film if he agreed to make the cavalry film first.

Rio Grande was the first of five films that Wayne and Maureen O’Hara made together. Their chemistry is palpable even though the two play characters at odds with each other throughout most of the film as they fight for the soul of their son.

Taking place post-Civil war when the Union Army turned its attention to the Apaches, Wayne is the post commander whose new recruits include Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr. and his own 17 year-old son, Claude Jarman, Jr., who he hasn’t seen in fifteen years. Victor McLaglen, Chill Wills and the Sons of the Pioneers co-star, but O’Hara is the revelation here as Wayne’s estranged wife.

O’Hara, who had been a child prodigy, often played characters older than she was in real life, and at 29 was totally believable as the mother of a 17 year-old. She was also the only actress who neither dominated nor was dominated by Wayne on screen. She was very much his equal.

Olive has also released Nicholas Ray’s controversial 1954 western, Johnny Guitar on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

This allegorical film was an anti-McCarthy treatise in which small-minded harridan Mercedes McCambridge imagines all kinds of evil things about saloon proprietress Joan Crawford and her friends which result in local law enforcement and other usually good men are coerced into thwarting them. Sterling Hayden has the title role of Crawford’s former lover, a legendary gunslinger. Scott Brady is Crawford’s friend, the Dancin’ Kid, who McCambridge has a love/hate relationship with, Ben Cooper is his young friend, while Ward Bond, Ernest Borgnine and John Carradine also have important roles.

Crawford and McCambridge detested one another and it shows in the animosity their characters have for each other, culminating in one of the fiercest showdowns in film history.

An antidote to the heavy goings-on of Johnny Guitar, 1985’s derived from the Parker Bros. board game of the same name.

I have always loved board games and murder mysteries. One of my favorite board game is Clue, but not the film made from it. I must say, however, that Paramount’s Blu-ray upgrade adds a touch of class not evident in the film’s silly goings-on to which there are three absurd endings.

To be fair, all the actors including Tim Curry as the butler; Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Peacock; Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White; Lesley Ann Warren as Miss Scarlet; Martin Mull as Col. Mustard; Michael McKean as Mr. Green; Christopher Lloyd as Professor Plum and Colleen Camp as the maid, are quite good. It’s the script that goes off the deep end that I find objectionable, but I’m pretty much in the minority on this one. Most people find the whole thing quite enjoyable.

New releases from Warner Archive include a number of fan favorites that have previously been unavailable or long out of print. Lisztomania; The Chapman Report and A Covenant With Death represent the former category; The Last of Sheila the latter.

Ken Russell’s 1975 film, Lisztomania, set in the 19th Century, attempts to draw parallels between the real-life hysteria over composer/pianist Franz Liszt and the modern hysteria over then contemporary rock bands. The Who’s Roger Daltry plays Liszt and the Beatles’ Ringo Starr has a cameo as – don’t ask – the Pope! The only other recognizable actors are Paul Nicholas as Richard Wagner and John Justin as Count d’Agoult, the husband of Liszt’s lover, the mother of his three children.

Although the film has some amusing dialogue, it is also quite ribald, with plenty of naked women and phallic symbols appearing throughout, while the turning of Wagner into a vampire takes it to a whole other level. It’s definitely not one for the faint of heart.

First there was the Kinsey Report, then there was The Chapman Report, Irving Wallace’s best-selling novel that became a hit film in 1962. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, time has not been kind to George Cukor’s film version about the woes of four sexually frustrated women.

Claire Bloom is an alcoholic nymphomaniac who when we first meet her, seduces the water delivery boy, played a young Chad Everett. This still being the Production Code era, of course such a wanton hussy must die, and so she does.

Jane Fonda is a frigid widow who is only frigid because she hasn’t met the right man. Enter cool, calm and collected researcher Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. to give her life meaning.

Shelley Winters is a bored housewife who satisfies her itch with playboy theatre director Ray Danton who has his wife get send her back to her mousey husband.

Only Glynis Johns as a bubbly artistic type who seduces hunky Ty Hardin, but changes her mind in the midst of the action, comes out of it unscathed. See it as artifact of its era or for the performances of Bloom, Winters and Johns, all of whom are better than their material. Fonda, not yet a skilled actress, comes off like a wet blanket.

Set in either 1924 Arizona or New Mexico, the screenplay only references the state as having gained statehood twelve years earlier, Lamont Johnson’s 1967 film, A Covenant With Death is a thinking man’s mystery in which a newly appointed Mexican-American judge must decide the fate of a man wrongly convicted of killing his wife who kills his would-be executioner before the real murderer confesses to the crime.

George Maharis as the judge; Earl Holliman as the convicted man; Gene Hackman as the town sheriff and Katy Jurado as the judge’s upstanding mother all turn in memorable performances.

Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins wrote the script and Herbert Ross directed 1973’s intricately plotted mystery, The Last of Sheila, which is ostensibly about a game to expose the hit-and-run killer of the title character, but is actually about something even more sinister. James Coburn, James Mason, Dyan Cannon, Richard Benjamin, Joan Hackett, Raquel Welch and Ian McShane co-star.

MGM’s MOD program carries on with the 1943 Monogram programmer, The Mystery of the 13th Guest in which attendees at a dinner of thirteen years earlier are being murdered one by one. You may guess the murderer, but you won’t guess the title mystery. It’s never explained! Helen Parrish and Dick Purcell head the cast.

This week’s new releases include the recent mega-hit, The Hunger Games and the Blu-ray release of a mega-hit of nearly forty years ago, Jaws.

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