Tuesday, April 18, 2017

RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (1962) (Blu-ray Review)


Label: Warner Archive Collection

Duration: 94 minutes
Region Code: All Regions
Rating: Unrated: 
Audio: English DTS HD-Master Audio 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Cast: Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea, Mariette Hartley, Ronald Starr, Edgar Buchanan, James Drury, Warren Oates. L.Q. Jones, R.G. Armstrong

In Sam Peckinpah's Ride The High Country (1962) we have aging lawman Steve Judd (Joel McCrea, Foreign Correspondent) at the turn of the 20th century, man on horses are giving way to the horseless carriage, and the remnants of old west are evaporating fast. Judd is in the process of signing on for work with a bank, hired onto guard a shipment of gold from the Coarse Gold mining camp in the Sierra Nevada's back to the bank in Hornitos, California. The job is dangerous, numerous men have died doing it, but the bankers don't think too much of the legendary lawman, who has seen better days, in fact he has to hide the fact that he needs reading glasses when reviewing the contract with the bankers, excusing himself to the bathroom to read it in private, it's sort of funny, and there's a lot of humor mixed into this movie. 

Finally offered the job Judd hires on an old gunslinger pal named Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott, Seven Men from Now) who has been working in a carnival sideshow attraction as “The Oregon Kid,”. The two past-their-prime gunslinger have both seen better days. Gil brings along his younger, hot-headed, sidekick Heck Longtree (Ron Starr) - love that name - on the job, and the three men set in the direction of Coarse Gold. But, unbeknownst to Judd the two men plan to double-cross him, and make off with the quarter million dollars in gold for themselves, unless they can convince the stoic, but well-worn, former lawman to swindle the bankers, too. 

They trio stop off along the way at a ranch run by uber-religious Joshua Knudsen (R.G. Armstrong, The Car) who lives with his attractive and rambunctious teenage daughter Elsa Knudsen (Mariette Hartley, The Return of Count Yorga), who is stifled by the strict upbringing by her father. She ends up running off with the trio of hired gunslingers, joining them on their trip to Coarse Gold, where she hopes to rekindle a romance with a young man named Billy Hammond (James Drury, TVs The Virginian) who once proposed to her, which doesn't turn out well for anyone. 

Peckinpah has always done well with stories about men who a bit out of time, a bit past their prime, and drawn into dangerous situations, and that was even true on this, his second film. McCrea and Scott are fantastic, veterans of countless Westerns, men of grit and presence, whose very appearance lends credibility to the film, but I have to admit, I have never been a huge fan of the American westerns. As a kid I hated them, it wasn't until I caught the wild Italian pasta-westerns of Sergio Leone (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) and Sergio Corbucci (Django) that I came around to tales from the old west, mostly because I loved the lurid and violent ways and the keen cinematography, but to this day I don't much care for the John Ford (The Searchers) westerns of the films of John Wayne (True Grit), but I have come around to the movies of Sam Peckinpah, beginning with The Wild Bunch years ago, so it was a treat to dig into this revisionist western, even if it lacked the visceral punch of Peckinpah's later films. 

Back to the film, the gold shipment begins to take a backseat to the story about two aged lawmen, their codes of honor, and the betrayal, that's the real meat of the story. There's an impromptu marriage in Coarse Gold between her and her Billy Hammond, with a wonderfully demented exchange of vows overseen by drunk Judge Tolliver (Edgar Buchanan) who offers the most downer of warnings to the newlyweds. It turns out that Billy has an assortment of brothers,  they're a lecherous bunch, among them character actors Warren Oates (Race with the Devil)and L.Q. Jones (The Brotherhood of Satan), a slimy clan who at one point seem to threaten to gang-rape the poor girl!

The sex and violence is toned way down, particularly considering what would come from Peckinpah in later years, but the movie thrives on the honorable grit of McCrae and Scott, the latter of whom is not so honorable, but the finale buttons things up nicely, with Scott getting his wish to "enter my House justified.", both men facing the threat of death with old west dignity. 

Audio/Video: Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country (1962) arrives on Blu-ray from the venerable Warner archive, benefitting from a new 2K scan from a recent interpositive and the results are very nice. Colors are vibrant, the big blue sky and green tree lines look great. Grain is nicely resolved, fine detail is abundant, and the Lucien Ballard (The Wild Bunch) CinemaScope lensing looks phenomenal. While this is not the most colorful western, every once in awhile we do get some nice splashes of color, particularly during a visit to a local whorehouse. The one mark against it, the opening title credit sequence is window boxed for some odd reason, but I don't think that it's a deal breaker as the remainder of the film looks wonderful, but it is unfortunate.  

The English DTS HD-Master Audio 2.0 Mono track sounds good, crisp, clean and while not overly dynamic, the movie is over fifty years old, it does the job and his free of any distortion, and the George Bassman score sounds great, even in mono. Optional English subtitles are included. 

Warner Archive bring over all the extras from ther 2006 DVD, beginning with the audio commentary with Peckinpah documentarians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle. Nick Redman of Twilight Tie moderates, and this is a char filled to the brim with Peckinpah, if you're a fan of the director this is a mandatory listen There's also a 22-min interview with Peckinpah's younger sister, Fern Lea Peter, who recounts what it was like in the Peckinpah household when they were young, a few of her older siblings youthful behaviour and speaking a bit about his entry into the Marines, film school, and what drove her and Sam apart at one point in their adult lives. There's also a 3-min trailer for the movie included, which pales in comparison to the new 2K transfer, it makes for a nice comparison. 

Special Features:
- Commentary by Peckinpah documentarians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle
- Documentary: A Justified Life: Sam Peckinpah and the Hogue Country (22 min)(SD)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (3 min)(HD) 

Ride the High Country (1962) is a classic American western, it lacks the visceral punch of later Peckinpah films but is a solid character-driven slice of Americana, featuring two legendary actors giving wonderful performances as a pair of gunslingers past their prime, fighting to hang onto their honor, sometimes straying along the way. This Blu-ray from Warner Archive looks phenomenal, definitely worth the upgrade! 3/5