Features and Columns · Movies

It’s Time to Rediscover This Sixty-Two Year-Old Western

By  · Published on September 19th, 2016

This Week in Home Video

It’s Time to Rediscover Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar

Pick of the Week

Johnny Guitar [Olive Signature]

What is it? Vienna (Joan Crawford) is the proud owner of a saloon situated on a piece of land near an impending railroad line, but while she sees success in her future the locals want her gone. The woman who owns most of the town wants her to suffer in the process too, and knowing trouble is heading her way Vienna finds support and conflict in a local romeo and the return of an ex-flame.

Why buy it? I’d never heard of Nicholas Ray’s early ’50s western before, and having now watched it I have no clue why that is. It’s terrific. Ray’s film is an oddly modern western ‐ the two toughest characters are women ‐ and it’s a highly engaging watch thanks to sharp dialogue and vibrant cinematography. It manages to touch on various genre tropes while forging its own path with a story that’s just as much about love, obsession, and forced conformity. The colors pop on Olive’s new 4K restoration, and the disc comes loaded with interviews too.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Introduction by Martin Scorsese, commentary, featurettes]

Johnny Guitar [Olive Signature) [Blu-ray]

The Best

Blood Simple [Criterion Collection]

What is it? Julian (Dan Hedaya) suspects his wife (Frances McDormand) is cheating on him, and once he confirms it he makes plans to have her and her lover (John Getz) killed. Things don’t quite work out that simply for anyone.

Why buy it? I haven’t actually picked up a copy of this release yet, but buying a Criterion Blu-ray of what remains one of the Coen Brothers’ best films seems like a no-brainer. Their first feature is a twisty noir with terrific performances and atmosphere to spare, and you can never go wrong with an immoral M. Emmet Walsh. The extras consist only of interviews with those associated with the film and its admirers, but Criterion’s given the film a new 4k restoration as well.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews]

Blood Simple (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Dead End Drive-In [Arrow Video]

What is it? It’s the future, and as is often the case with the future, it’s terrible. The economy is in ruins and crime is rampant ‐ youth gangs rule the streets in vehicles built for mayhem ‐ so the adult authorities devise a foolproof system. They lure unruly teens to a remote drive-in theater, disable their cars, and essentially incarcerate them in a big-screen internment camp. One young man isn’t standing for it.

Why buy it? Director Brian Trenchard-Smith is a big name in the world of Ozploitation cinema, and it’s due as much to his zany ideas as it is his mastery of vehicular action. This mid-’80s post-apocalyptic romp is a perfect example of that crossroads as wild action, aggressive punk sensibilities, and a engagingly goofy world deliver the goods. Arrow Video’s new Blu features a 2K restoration and a pair short docs Trenchard-Smith made with his usual wit and action.

[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, two early short/docs, reversible sleeve]

Dead End Drive-In (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]

High Noon [Olive Signature]

What is it? A small town’s marshal (Gary Cooper) has the misfortune of getting married on the same day one of his past prisoner’s is scheduled to arrive on the train in search of revenge. The lawman is urged to leave town, but he stays to defend it instead, and it’s then that he discovers none of the townspeople are willing to help.

Why buy it? This was a first-time watch for me of this classic western ‐ it’s avoided my eyes for years for no discernible reason ‐ and it’s as fantastic as its reputation suggests. A simple setup gives way for a powerful tale of honor, courage, and responsibility, and its real-time structure adds a palpable ticking clock to the suspense. The only thing missing from it is a final “eff you” to the townspeople, but it’s nothing a double feature with High Plains Drifter can’t fix. The new Olive Signature label makes its debut with the film, and while the previous Blu-ray apparently already looks fine this new 4k restoration is gorgeous.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, essays]

High Noon [Olive Signature) [Blu-ray]

The Rest

Free State of Jones

What is it? Newt Knight (Matthew McConaughey) is a proud southerner during the Civil War who’s pushed past the breaking point by a Confederate army that feels entitled to its citizens’ crops, resources, and property. He leads a rebellion that sees an entire county fight back and secede from the Confederacy.

Why see it? Gary Ross’ feature on a little-known piece of Civil War history is more interesting for the information it imparts than for its execution. It’s never dull exactly, but there’s an odd lack of excitement and energy to Knight’s efforts.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

What is it? Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) survived their war with the frat house next door and are happily raising their daughter in a hard-fought peace and quiet. That calm is shattered though when a sorority moves in forcing the couple to turn to an old enemy (Zac Efron) for help.

Why see it? As with any film starring Rose Byrne the main reason to see it is for Rose Byrne, obviously. There are other laughs to be found here, but they don’t reach the heights of the first film in part because too many of them are direct riffs on the same material. The film earns points for its strong feminist message though.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, gag reel, featurettes, commentary]

Sacrifice [Scream Factory]

What is it? A doctor (Radha Mitchell) moves to a remote coastal town in Scotland with her husband in the hopes of making a home, but their tranquility is quickly shattered by the discovery of a woman’s corpse showing clear signs of ritualized torture. The crime appears to be from many years ago, but the danger remains.

Why see it? Mitchell is a compelling presence, as usual, but the film itself is anything but. Once the initial setup is in place the story goes exactly where you expect with each new revelation leading to the ending you already know is coming.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

Also Out This Week:

Beauty and the Beast ‐ 25th Anniversary Edition, The Blackout Experiments, Cat People [Criterion Collection], Labyrinth ‐ 30th Anniversary Edition, The Originals ‐ The Complete Third Season, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Wedding Doll

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.