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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 9, 2003

DVDs breathe new life into old Westerns

By Terry Lawson
Knight Ridder News Service

Marlene Dietrich is a temptress while Jimmy Stewart plays a cowpoke in the 1939 classic "Destry Rides Again."

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I'm sure there's some sort of marketing strategy that has inspired the studios to raid the vaults for old Westerns, but anything that gets the films Jimmy Stewart made with director Anthony Mann onto DVD is fine with me.

The collaboration started with a bang with 1950's "Winchester '73" (Universal), which makes most lists, including mine, of the best of the genre. Stewart is an angry man determined to find the rifle that has been stolen from him while attempting to deal with outlaw Dan Duryea, a manipulative Shelley Winters and a brother he despises. The movie boasts great direction from Mann, great black-and-white cinematography and one of the greatest shootouts ever.

As with the rest of the Westerns in the Universal roundup, no real extras aside from trailers are included. But it's hard to complain — we can see them in the original theatrical format, with spruced-up picture and sound.

Of the other Stewart-Mann titles, 1952's "Bend of the River," with Stewart as a pioneer guide, Arthur Kennedy as his betrayer and Rock Hudson as a gambler, is taut and compelling, while 1954's "The Far Country," with Stewart and sidekick Walter Brennan putting down stakes in Alaska, is less action-packed but just as entertaining.

Staying with Stewart but moving from Mann, the collection also includes the 1939 classic "Destry Rides Again," the famous-but-unlikely pairing of Stewart as a cowpoke and Marlene Dietrich parodying her "Blue Angel" temptress.

"Night Passage" of 1957 pits railroad worker Stewart against outlaw brother Audie Murphy; 1965's sentimental but involving Civil War epic "Shenandoah" became the basis for the hit Broadway musical; and 1966's "Rare Breed" features Stewart as a cowboy who helps Brit Maureen O'Hara introduce Hereford bulls to Texas.

The best of the non-Stewart titles is 1970's "Two Mules for Sister Sara," directed by Don Siegel and starring Clint Eastwood as a drifter reluctantly accompanying nun Shirley MacLaine across the Mexican desert.

Maureen O'Hara has the title role in 1953's "The Redhead From Wyoming," one of the rare horse operas with a female protagonist, and 1952's "Duel at Silver Creek" stars Murphy as sharpshooter the Silver Kid.

"Law and Order" of 1953 is most notable for the lawman's attempt to impose an early version of gun control by confiscating all the townsfolk's firearms, since the sheriff is played by Ronald Reagan.

Clancy thrillers collected

More testosterone abounds in Paramount Home Video's "The Jack Ryan Special Edition Collection," which collects all four of the action thrillers based on Tom Clancy's hardware-obsessed novels.

The first three have been upgraded to Special Editions. That means the addition of commentary, interviews, and new transfers and sound remixes to 1990's "The Hunt for Red October," with Alec Baldwin as CIA analyst Ryan and Sean Connery as a Russian sub commander; and 1992's Irish terrorist thriller "Patriot Games" and 1994's "Clear and Present Danger," both with Harrison Ford as Ryan.

The fourth and best film in the box, 2002's "The Sum of All Fears," with Ben Affleck as a young Ryan, is the same DVD released in March.

'Larry Flynt' gets upgrade

Also receiving a well-deserved upgrade is 1996's "The People vs. Larry Flynt" (Columbia TriStar), Milos Forman's version of the Hustler publisher's battles with the antiporn police and the assassination attempt that left him paralyzed.