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Vampyr | The uncanny 1932 German horror returns to the big screen with an all-new 2k restoration for its 90th anniversary

“★★★★★ A vampire film like no other… a waking nightmare of eerie, ethereal horror” – Total Film

“As close as you get to a poem on film” – Guillermo del Toro 

Courtesy of Eureka Entertainment comes the release of the 2K restoration of director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s enduring 1932 Germany horror Vampyr, in cinemas (UK & Ireland from 20 May) and on Blu-ray as a part of The Masters of Cinema Series (also 20 May).

The first foray into sound filmmaking by one of cinema’s pivotal artists, Vampyr remains a cornerstone work of the horror genre. The dreamlike tale of an occult-obsessed student’s visit to the small French village of Courtempierre, as he is drawn into the unsettling mystery around a stricken family’s struggle with malevolent forces, remains an unparalleled evocation of the uncanny.

Adapting Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 story, In a Glass Darkly, Dreyer’s ceaseless innovation delivers a tour-de-force of supernatural phantasmagoria and creeping unease, via audacious camera work and sound design, as well as a mesmerising performance from the film’s producer, aristocrat Nicolas de Gunzburg (credited as Julian West), in the central role of occult student, Julian West.

Presented from an all-new 2K restoration by the Danish Film Institute (completed in 2020), and taking more than a decade to complete, this is regarded as the most definitive incarnation of Vampyr possible.

LIMITED-EDITION BLU-RAY (3000 COPIES) FEATURES
• Hardbound Slipcase
• All-new 2K digital restoration of the German version, with an uncompressed mono soundtrack
• Optional unrestored audio track
• Audio commentaries from critic and programmer Tony Rayns and Vampyr fan Guillermo del Toro
• Visual essay by scholar Casper Tybjerg on Dreyer’s Vampyr influences
• Interview with Kim Newman on Vampyr‘s place within vampire cinema
• Two interviews with music historian David Huckvale
Carl Th. Dreyer (1966) – a documentary by Jörgen Roos
• Two deleted scenes, removed by the German censor in 1932
The Baron: short MoC documentary about Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg
• Optional English subtitles
• Collector’s booklet featuring rare production ephemera, a 1964 interview with Baron Nicolas de Gunzberg, and essays by Tom Milne, Jean and Dale Drum, and film restorer Martin Koerber

VAMPYR Limited Edition Blu-ray available to order from the Eureka Store https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/vampyr-limited-edition-box-set-3000-copies/

VAMPYR 90th Anniversary Screenings www.vampyr90.co.uk

Viy (1967) and Sveto Mesto (1990) | Two visually-arresting Nikolai Gogol Euro horrors on Blu-ray

The macabre and grotesque fiction of Russian author Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852) has long been a source for some classic (and not-so-classic) cinematic adaptations – and two of the best are now available in a two-disc Blu-ray edition from Eureka, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series: Aleksandr Ptushko’s Viy (1967), the first Soviet-era horror film, and Serbian director Đorđe Kadijević’s 1990 Yugoslavian adaptation Sveto Mesto (AKA A Holy Place).

Based on Gogol’s influential 1835 horror novella, Viy follows a seminary student in 19th-century Russia who, while on a break from his studies, is asked by a wealthy merchant to pray over the body of his deceased daughter. Rising from her coffin each night, she evokes vampires, werewolves and even the dreaded Viy in a bid to stop him from completing his ritual.

Featuring striking visuals from Aleksandr Ptushko, this is a masterpiece of Soviet and fantasy cinema that requires multiple viewings to understand just how influential it has become on generations of film-makers – including Mario Bava (the I Wurdalak segment in Black Sabbath), Guillermo Del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone & Pan’s Labyrinth) and even Michael Winner (The Sentinel).

Eureka’s 1080p transfer (from an HD restoration of the original film elements) is simply stunning and the extras include a new commentary from Michael Brooke, a video essay on Gogol, an archival documentary on the film, and three Russian silent film fragments – The Portrait [1915, 8 mins], The Queen of Spades [1916, 16 mins], and Satan Exultant [1917, 20 mins].

The second disc features Sveto Mesto (AKA A Holy Place) as a bonus extra – and what bonus it is. I had never heard of Djordje Kadijevic before, and having watched his perversely erotic take on Gogol’s classic tale, I need to see more of his fantasy films which he made for Serbian TV in the 1970s.

Again, it involves a student priest tormented by a young witch (called Catherine here) – but he also expands on the story with three flashback stories that reveal her to be the embodiment of the femme fatale.

Artfully shot, with evocative lighting, it has a 1970s Euro-horror and a rather catchy synth theme tune. Eureka’s set also includes a booklet containing a fascinating essay about Kadijevic by Serbian critic Dejan Ognjanovic, and one on Ptushko by Tim Lucas.

The H-Man & Battle in Outer Space | A double-bill of 1950’s Japanese sci-fi from Ishirō Honda on Blu-ray

On Blu-ray for the first time in the UK comes Ishirō Honda’s 1950s sci-fi extravaganzas The H-Man and Battle in Outer Space, as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series.

The H-Man (Bijo to Ekitai-ningen, 1958)
Tokyo police are baffled when a drug dealer and then his associate disappear, leaving just their clothes behind. A young scientist Dr Masada (Kenji Sahara) suspects that a radioactive liquid found on board a ghost ship is dissolving people into slimy, sentient blobs of destruction! The police are sceptical at first, but when one of their own is liquified by the H-Men, they soon realise the entire city could be wiped out.

Fusing gangster noir and body melting horror, The H-Man (or Bijo to Ekitai-ningen – which translates as Beauty and the Liquid People) is Japan’s answer to The Blob. It’s a colourful camp riot from beginning to end, with most of the action taking place in a kitsch nightclub – where the missing dealer’s girlfriend (Yuma Shirakawa) performs – before a fiery showdown in the sewers of Tokyo. Hugely entertaining, I’ll be revisiting this one very soon.

Battle in Outer Space (Uchū Daisensō, 1959)
A series of catastrophes sweep the globe, causing the world’s scientists to conclude that Earth is under attack by extraterrestrials, and every nation must now unite to defend itself in a battle in outer space!

Special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya and director Honda play out every youngster’s fantasy with this glorious love-letter to all things sci-fi. The designs of the spaceships, ray-runs, lunar surfaces are gorgeously retro; and the action scenes are bona fide Boy’s Own Adventure stuff. Makes for perfect viewing on a cold and rainy afternoon. Let the battle begin.


BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Includes both original Japanese and international English dubbed versions of each film on Blu-ray
  • Original mono audio presentations
  • English subtitles (for Japanese versions) and English SDH (for English versions)
  • Stills galleries
  • Booklet featuring some excellent essays by Christopher Stewardson and Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp

Mothra | The heroic kaiju favourite saves the day in glorious Blu-ray

One of the most iconic Japanese kaiju, Mothra has appeared in several Toho features since its first appearance in Ishirō Honda’s 1961 monster fantasy adventure, which heads to Blu-ray in the UK for the first time, as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series.

When the tiny twin Shobijin (singing duo The Peanuts AKA Yumi and Emi Ito) are abducted by a ruthless Rolisican capitalist, Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito), Mothra hatches from her egg on Infant Island and swims to Tokyo where she cocoons herself around the Tokyo Tower. Reaching adult form, Mothra then flies to Rolisica’s capital and causes widespread destruction in a bid to force Clark to release the Shobijin.

Featuring fantastic special effects from the legendary Eiji Tsuburaya, thrilling set-pieces orchestrated by director Honda and a terrifically catchy theme tune (sung by The Peanuts), Mothra is one of my all-time favourite Toho kaiju and one I have returned to time and again. But this new Blu-ray is a welcome sight as the gorgeous presentation here serves to highlight the film’s excellent production values; particularly so the elaborate sets and miniatures.

Although I would have loved to see the film’s entire soundtrack presented amongst the extras, the collector’s booklet featuring pieces from Japanese cinema experts such as Jasper Sharp make this Eureka release a must-have. It’s also the perfect companion piece to Criterion’s Showa-era Godzilla box-set – which I’m currently enjoying.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Includes original Japanese (101min) and international English dubbed versions (90min), with original mono audio presentations (LPCM) and English subtitles (Japanese version) and English SDH (English version
  • NEW interview with film critic Kim Newman on Mothra 
  • Two galleries featuring rare production stills, ephemera and concept art
  • Teaser and theatrical trailers
  • Collector’s booklet featuring essays by Christopher Stewardson and Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp; a new interview with production designer Scott Chambliss; an extract from Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski’s Ishirō Honda biography; and archival reviews and stills.

Buster Keaton: Three Films – Volume 3 (1923-1927) | Our Hospitality, Go West and College on Blu-ray

Congrats once again to Eureka Entertainment for bringing another trio of classics from the silent comedy genius that is Buston Keaton on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK. And once again it’s packaged with a host of extras and a fantastic collector’s booklet.

Our Hospitality (1923) – 2k restoration
In this gag-filled take on the infamous Hatfield and McCoy feud, Keaton stars as the luckless William McKay, who is lured into a trap by a rival clan, the Canfields. But knowing that he won’t be killed as long as he remains inside their homestead, he tries to stay put against all obstacles. This was one of Keaton’s most significant features and a breakthrough in his career – it also features a rather scary climax involving some dangerous rapids. Included is a new audio commentary by silent film historian Rob Farr, and the shorter (55min) work-print, Hospitality, presented with a  commentary by film historian Polly Rose. Plus, the video essay Making Comedy Beautiful by Patricia Eliot Tobias.

Go West (1925) – 4k restoration
In this one, Keaton plays the penniless Friendless who ride the rails to work on an Arizona ranch. But when his beloved cow, Brown Eyes (who gets her own credit), seems set for the slaughterhouse, Friendless intervenes… The stand-out scene in this little beauty is a cattle stampede. You also get an audio commentary by film historians Joel Goss and Bruce Lawton, a video essay by John Bengtson on the filming locations, and another one, A Window on Keaton, by David Cairns. Plus, the short film Go West [1923, 12 mins], and a stills gallery.

College (1927) – 2k restoration
Keaton followed up 1926’s The General with this higher education comedy in which he plays the scholarly anti-sports Ronald who tries to win the heart of schoolgirl Mary (Anne Cornwall) by becoming the one thing he is not – an athlete. But when Mary’s jock beau Jeff (Harold Goodwin) tries to force her into marriage, Ronald comes to the rescue… Filled with inventive physical gags, this is my favourite in the set. Also included is a video essay by John Bengtson on College’s filming locations, The Railrodder [1965, 24 mins] starring Keaton in one of his final film roles, optional audio commentary with director Gerald Potterton and cameraman David De Volpi, and an audio Q&A with Potterton [55 mins]. Plus, the documentary Buster Keaton Rides Again [1965, 55 mins], and stills galleries.

Out now on Blu-ray as part of Eureka’s The Masters of Cinema Series.

The Man Who Laughs | The influential silent classic starring Conrad Veidt gets a lauded 4k restoration release

From Eureka Entertainment comes 1928’s The Man Who Laughs on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, and presented from Universal’s 4K restoration, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

Following the success of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925) which turned Lon Chaney into a superstar, Universal chief Carl Laemmle decided the studio’s next Gothic film super-production would be drawn from another Victor Hugo novel, The Man Who Laughs.

Set in England in the 1680s, the story centres on a young nobleman, Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt), whose face was mutilated into a permanent grin when he was a child by his executed father’s royal court enemies. Joining a travelling carnival as The Laughing Man, the now-adult Gwynplaine falls in love with his blind companion Dea (Mary Philbin), but his disfigurement causes him to believe he is unworthy of her love. When his royal lineage is discovered and he is granted a peerage, he must choose between marrying a duchess (Olga Baklanova) or fleeing with Dea.

When Lon Chaney became unavailable to play Gwynplaine, Laemmle brought in the ideal alternative – Conrad Veidt, who was also a master at physical performance as witnessed by his iconic turns as Cesare the somnambulist in Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920) and as Ivan the Terrible in Waxworks (1924).

At the helm was German Expressionist director Paul Leni and cinematographer Gilbert Warrenton, who had scored a big hit with Cat in the Canary the previous year. Also on board was Jack Pierce, whose startling makeup on Veidt would echo through the decades – becoming the inspiration for The Joker in the 1940 Batman comic.

Tragedy, romance, and even swashbuckling swordplay all have their part to play in this incredible piece of silent cinema, which features excellent performances from Veidt (whose mannerisms are paid homage to by Joaquin Phoenix in 2019’s Joker), Philbin and Baklanova (who would go on to play another sleazy character in Tod Browning’s Freaks in 1932) and some truly astonishing imagery (especially the fantastic character faces that Leni assembles).

A silent classic that needs repeated viewings, and a great addition to Eureka’s The Masters of Cinema Series

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from Universal’s 4K restoration
• Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 (stereo) score by the Berklee School of Music
• Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 (mono) 1928 Movietone score
• Kim Newman on Paul Leni (informative as usual)
The Face Detectives: video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson (well-researched with some arty editing – a highlight)
Paul Leni and The Man Who Laughs – video essay by John Sioster (also well researched)
• Rare stills gallery
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Travis Crawford, and Richard Combs

A trio of classic 1930s Pre-Code shockers starring Bela Lugosi on Blu-ray

In 2019, Scream Factory’s first Universal Horror Collection included the all-time 1930s classics The Black Cat and The Raven – two of my favourites – plus The Invisible Ray (another fave) and Black Friday (not so) – starring the kings of horror Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. The box-set was a must-buy for me as they included some stunning Blu-ray presentations, plus a stack of extras, including the fantastic documentary Dreams Within A Dream: The Classic Cinema of Edgar Allan Poe by Steve Haberman.

Now, I try to avoid double-dipping as best I can, but when I heard that the 1932 Pre-Code chiller Murders in the Rue Morgue was going to be released along withThe Black Cat and The Raven on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK as part of Eureka’s The Masters of Cinema Series, I just had to check it out.

Directed by Robert Florey as a consolation prize for losing out on Frankenstein, Universal’s third horror outing drew on Edgar Allan Poe’s famous 1841 story which introduced his fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin (played somewhat anemically here by Leon Waycoff – later Leon Ames). More Caligari than Poe, the twisted tale sees Lugosi’s mad scientist Dr Mirakle obsessed with creating a new human being by mating his carnival sideshow gorilla Eric (Charles Gemora) with Dupin’s fiancée Camille (Sidney Fox).

Lugosi is terrifically bonkers as the insane genius, cinematographer Karl Freund brings a nightmarish German Expressionist touch to Charles Hall’s Parisian sets (which include twisted buildings, narrow alleyways and a suitably macabre lab), and there are some genuinely unsettling sequences – especially when Lugosi experiments on one of his female victims. Magnificient!

In The Black Cat, Karloff (heading the bill as just Karloff) and Bela Lugosi (in second billing) paired up for the first time (they would go on to make eight pictures together). It has little to do with Poe or his original 1843 story but is fantastically original in both story and design, and directed with feverish flair by Edgar G Ulmer (who also created the wonderful modernist sets and costumes).

Cat-fearing Lugosi is respected Hungarian scientist, Dr Vitus Werdegast, out for revenge against his former friend, Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), who betrayed him during a bloody conflict and stole his wife while he was in prison. David Manners and Julie Bishop are the newlyweds who get caught up in the deadly game, which involves a cult of Satanists, dead women in glass cabinets, necrophilia, Karloff being skinned alive and a dynamite-filled cellar – all set to a soundtrack of classics by Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. Just wonderful.

With its ghoulish brew of lust, revenge and torture 1935’s The Raven was deemed so grotesque by the British censor that all American horror films were banned for two years. Lugosi (credited second as just Lugosi here) gives his definitive mad scientist performance as the crazed Poe-obsessed plastic surgeon Dr Richard Vollin, whose unrequited love for his latest patient, interpretive dancer Jean (Irene Ware) drives him to madness.

Luring Jean, her fiancé Jerry (Lester Matthews), who is also Vollin’s assistant, and her father, Judge Thatcher (Samuel Hinds), to his home along with some other dinner guests, he exacts his revenge with some devilish torture contraptions including a pendulum and a shrinking room. Karloff is the unfortunate murderer on the run, Bateman, whose face is purposely disfigured by Vollin so that he does his bidding – but ends up the hero of the piece.

While lacking the fantastical atmosphere of The Black Cat, this Universal outing is packed with thrills and has the look and feel of the popular action serials that director Lew Landers helmed around the same time. A timeless classic.

Eureka Entertainment’s two-disc Limited Edition Blu-ray set includes the following special content…

• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations, with The Raven presented from a 2K scan
• Uncompressed LPCM monaural audio tracks
• Optional English SDH subtitles
Murders in the Rue Morgue – Audio commentary by Gregory William Mank
The Black Cat audio commentaries by Gregory William Mank (carried over from the Scream Factory release) and Amy Simmons
The Raven audio commentaries by Gary D Rhodes (carried over from the Scream Factory release) and Samm Deighan
Cats In Horror – a video essay by Lee Gambin
American Gothic – a video essay by Kat Ellinger
The Black Cat episode of radio series Mystery In The Air, starring Peter Lorre
The Tell-Tale Heart episode of radio series Inner Sanctum Mysteries, starring Boris Karloff
• Bela Lugosi reads The Tell-Tale Heart (carried over from the Scream Factory release)
• Vintage footage (of Karloff and Lugosi inspecting black cats in a publicity stunt)
• New interview with author Kim Newman
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by film critic and writer Jon Towlson; a new essay by film critic and writer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; and rare archival imagery and ephemera

Criss Cross | Robert Siodmak’s must-see film noir classic on Blu-ray

Obsessive love, robbery and murder collide in Robert Siodmak’s classic 1949 film noir suspense tale. Burt Lancaster plays working-class armoured car driver Steve Thompson, who returns to Los Angeles after a few years away hoping to reunite with his ex-wife Anna (Yvonne DeCarlo) – but she’s now married to local mobster Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea).

Unable to stay away from each other, Steve and Anna begin an affair – only to be discovered by Dundee. But Steve manages to convince Dundee that he only wanted to get close to Anna to get his help in robbing an upcoming payroll shipment. Dundee falls for the ruse, which triggers a series of deadly events…

Packed with suspense, a tight script and direction, a sterling cast (especially DeCarlo), moody monochrome cinematography that makes effective use of the downtown Los Angeles locations, plus a rousing Miklós Rózsa score, this is film noir masterpiece that’s ripe for a revisit. Watch out for Tony Curtis making his screen debut (as Anthony Curtis) and prepare to be shocked by the very bleak ending.

Criss Cross gets a new 4K restoration for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series and includes the following features…

• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray, from a new 4K scan of the original nitrate negative
• Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 audio
• Audio commentary by film author Lee Gambin, and actress Rutanya Alda
• Video piece on the film by film scholar Adrian Martin
• Theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by film historian Kat Ellinger; an essay by Adam Batty; archival writing and imagery

A Foreign Affair | Billy Wilder’s postwar romantic comedy on Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes Billy Wilder’s Oscar-nominated postwar romantic comedy A Foreign Affair on Blu-ray as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

When a US congressional committee flies into occupied Berlin to monitor the morale of American troops, staunchly conservative Iowa congresswoman Phoebe Frost (Jean Arthur) is appalled by the lax attitudes exhibited by the troops. She then also starts her own investigation when she discovers that a popular cabaret singer Erika von Schlütow (Marlene Dietrich) was the former mistress of wanted ex-Gestapo agent Hans Otto Birgel (Peter von Zerneck) and is being protected by a mystery American officer. But when she enlists the services of fellow Iowan Captain John Pringle (John Lund) to root him out, she’s unaware that Pringle’s her man – and now he’s trying to cover his tracks by wooing her…

Shrewd, sharp with a whole lot of heart despite its cynical undertones, this is one of Wilder’s best-loved films, thanks to its winning combination of some amazing location footage of a decimated Berlin, delightful performances (especially Jean Arthur), and the divine Dietrich in sultry fine voice.

SPECIAL FEATURES
· 1080p presentation on Blu-ray
· Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 audio
· Audio commentary by film historian Joseph McBride
· From Berlin to Hollywood: Wilder and Dietrich’s Foreign Affair – A video essay by Kat Ellinger
· Two radio adaptations of A Foreign Affair, broadcast as part of the Screen Directors Playhouse in 1949 and 1951. Featuring Billy Wilder, Marlene Dietrich, Rosalind Russell, John Lund, and Lucille Ball
· Archival interview with Billy Wilder
· Theatrical trailer
· Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; a new essay by critic Richard Combs; and archival material

Rio Grande (1950) | Jeremy Isaac revisits John Ford’s final entry in his Cavalry Trilogy as it hits the Blu-ray trail

Rio Grande is the third entry in director John Ford’s Western ‘Cavalry Trilogy’ (the first two are Fort Apache and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, released in 1948 and 1949 respectively), and features all the Fordian obsessions found in the earlier films: duty, community, the loneliness of command, career versus family, savagery versus civilisation, the ‘romance’ of the Confederacy, Irish stereotypes, fist fights, and Ford’s customary heavy humour and rollicking adventure scenes. Yet the film eschews both the prickly intensity of Fort Apache and the aching nostalgia of Yellow Ribbon to emphasise the troubled romantic relationship between its two principals, played by John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.

Based on James Warner Bellah’s short story Mission With No Record, the tale is a simple one: young trooper Jeff Yorke (Claude Jarman of The Yearling fame) arrives at a remote cavalry outpost to find the command headed by no-nonsense Lieutenant Colonel Kirby Yorke (Wayne), who also happens to be his estranged father. Yorke has been separated from the boy’s mother Kathleen (O’Hara) since duty to the Union led him to burn her Southern estate during the Civil War 15 years earlier.

Shortly afterwards Kathleen also arrives at the post with the intention of buying Jeff out of his commitment to the army, to which both son and father are vehemently opposed. As the trio struggles over this issue, Yorke and Kathleen try to rekindle their shattered love, something they both want but which they wrestle with because of their tragic past.

This plays out against the backdrop of an Indian rebellion involving several gripping action scenes and the kidnapping by Apaches of the post’s children (one of which is played by 10-year-old Karolyn Grimes, best remembered as George Bailey’s youngest daughter Zuzu in It’s A Wonderful Life; the Apaches are played by members of the Navajo tribe employed by Ford in most of his ‘Indian’ Westerns). Can Yorke and his trusty troopers succeed in rescuing the beleaguered youngsters?

As always, the director’s preoccupations are accompanied by his famous use of the ‘John Ford Stock Company’: Wayne was a longtime favourite of Ford’s; O’Hara had appeared in his Oscar-winning How Green Was My Valley, and would later join him and Wayne for The Quiet Man, as well as appearing in Ford’s The Long Grey Line and Wings Of Eagles in 1955 and 1957. Other Ford regulars include the boozy Victor McLaglen as Irish Sergeant Quincannon, Ken Curtis (lead singer of featured vocal group the Sons of the Pioneers, originally founded in the 1930s by Roy Rogers), former silent actor Jack Pennick, who appeared in all bar two of Ford’s 14 sound Westerns, and – importantly – lifelong Tinseltown pals Harry Carey Jr and Ben Johnson.

Harry Carey Jr’s father had been Ford’s biggest Western star during the silent era. Following his dad’s death the previous year, the director gave the young Harry an early movie break by casting him with Wayne and Mexican actor Pedro Armendariz in his allegorical 1948 oater 3 Godfathers, the opening titles of which dedicated the film ‘To the Memory of Harry Carey, bright star of the Western sky…’. Carey Jr went on to appear in dozens of movies over the next 60 years, many for John Ford, until his death in 2012 aged 91.

Raised on an Oklahoma ranch, Ben Johnson was a gen-u-ine cowboy and rodeo rider who was hired by producer Howard Hughes to ship horses to the West Coast for his controversial 1943 Western The Outlaw starring Jane Russell. In Hollywood Johnson worked as a stunt man in Westerns, and it was while working on Ford’s Fort Apache, the first in the Cavalry Trilogy, that he caught the director’s eye. During shooting, a horse team pulling a wagon bolted with three extras aboard. Seasoned horseman Johnson reacted immediately, racing after the wagon, reining in the team and saving the men’s lives.

Ford cast him as former Confederate officer-turned-US Cavalry Sergeant Travis Tyree in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. Not only did the role give Johnson a chance to exercise his acting skills, it also allowed him to show off his superb horsemanship, filling the film’s action sequences with scenes of unparalleled equestrian pyrotechnics. His career with Ford seemed set, and he was cast in the lead in the director’s next venture, Wagon Master, in 1950. However, the film failed to make Johnson a star in the John Wayne mould and he returned in Rio Grande, this time as Trooper Tyree, as though demoted for his failure. He continued to make movies (mostly Westerns such as George Stevens’ Shane) for the next 40 years, winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his iconic portrayal of Sam The Lion in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show in 1971, before passing away in 1996 aged 77.

Harry Carey Jr was no mean horseman himself, as he (as Trooper Sandy Boone) and Johnson demonstrated in Rio Grande in a series of breathtaking scenes, notably one in which the pair rode ‘like them ancient Romans’, that is to say, standing upright atop two horses and straddling the gap between them with one foot on the back of each horse, racing and even jumping fences. However, it wasn’t all bareback for Johnson and Carey Jr, as the pair also played a crucial role as ever-present comedic guardians and protectors of the young Jeff.

Filmed in wild majestic locations in Moab, Utah, Rio Grande is not as intense as its predecessors Fort Apache or Yellow Ribbon. Certainly, it lacks the stress and tension surrounding Henry Fonda’s unyielding Colonel Owen Thursday of the first film, who pays the ultimate price for his relentless adherence to duty and the rituals of social convention, or the sense of mission failure and emasculation by being put out to pasture through retirement as experienced by Wayne’s Captain Nathan Brittles in the second.

Instead, Rio Grande‘s lower-key approach chronicles the angst-ridden contradictions of love, parenthood, family commitment and responsibility. The chemistry between the popular Wayne and O’Hara pairing is engaging and beautifully played as Kirby woos Kathleen all over again; the family is healed and reunited and, amid much galloping, massed war whoops and rapid gunfire, the rebellion providing the action-adventure background is put down, bringing peace to the frontier. It may not be John Ford’s best Western (no pun intended), but it’s still one of his finest, and a more-than-worthy closing volume to the classic Cavalry Trilogy.

[Editor’s note]: This piece was written by Jeremy Isaac, whose knowledge of the Western genre is unsurpassed. A brilliant features writer and sub-editor, Jeremy can be contacted via the following links for any possible freelance work: uk.linkedin.com/in/jerryjourno1 and jerryjourno58.wordpress.com/

Rio Grande is out now on Blu-ray in the UK from Eureka Entertainment as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Limited Edition O-Card (2000 units only)
  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray, from a new transfer completed by Paramount’s preservation department in 2019
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Brand new and exclusive feature-length audio commentary by western authority Stephen Prince
  • Scene specific audio commentary with Maureen O’Hara
  • A video essay on the film by John Ford expert and scholar Tag Gallagher
  • Along the Rio Grande with Maureen O’Hara – archival documentary
  • The Making of Rio Grande – archival featurette
  • Theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: a collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by western expert Howard Hughes; a new essay by film writer Phil Hoad; transcript of an interview with John Ford; excerpts from a conversation with Harry Carey, Jr.

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