The 10-disc John Wayne Film Collection, now available on DVD from Fox Home Entertainment, includes ten films starring who else but The Duke himself. The set takes viewers all the way back to Wayne’s first starring role in Raoul Walsh’s 1930 Western, The Big Trail. In addition to The Big Trail, this set includes the following nine feature films:
Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)
Legend of the Lost (Henry Hathaway, 1957)
The Barbarian and the Geisha (John Huston, 1958)
The Horse Soldiers (John Ford, 1959)
The Alamo (John Wayne, 1960)
North to Alaska (Henry Hathaway, 1960)
The Comancheros (Michael Curtiz, 1961)
The Longest Day (Producer Darryl F. Zanuck, 1962)
The Undefeated (Andrew V. McLaglen, 1969)
With so many John Wayne collections already on the market, you may be wondering just how many Wayne collections the world really needs. Well, I certainly can’t speak to the abundance of Wayne collections, as this is honestly the first I’ve ever added to my DVD library. But I can speak to the strengths of this particular set. Now, I’ve heard numerous people complain about Wayne’s limited abilities as a performer in my many years as a cinephile, and let’s face it, Wayne films often rely more on his cultural persona than on any real acting per se. Yet this set provides an interesting cross-section of Wayne’s work that really highlights his range. Moreover, with the variety of films presented here, the set could serve as either the ideal seed for a more extensive John Wayne library or supplement a more threadbare Wayne collection such as mine prior to this set.
The set features one of my favorite Wayne films, Red River, which co-stars a young Montgomery Clift in a role celebrated for its clear homosexual overtones. In addition to its delightfully blatant homoeroticism, the film relates a truly compelling narrative centered around two old friends (Wayne and Clift) who embark on a near-impossible cattle drive from Texas to Missouri through hostile, “Indian” territory. The film’s central conflict develops naturally out of the duo’s complex relationship and the nuanced characterization Wayne’s Thomas Dunson, ultimately finding Dunson positioned as the film’s antagonist. This creates an extremely tense climax, loaded with deep personal ramifications for all characters involved since these two characters obviously love one another. I honestly consider Red River right up there with The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and True Grit as easily one of the top five or ten greatest films to star John Wayne.
Other notable features collected here include Wayne’s official directorial debut, The Alamo; the curiosity that is North to Alaska, a romanti-comic adventure co-starring Capucine; the fascinating historical drama, The Barbarian and the Geisha; and the war epic, The Longest Day. The Longest Day, portions of which producer Darryl F. Zanuck handed out to numerous directors, features an absolutely staggering all-star cast featuring Henry Fonda, Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum, Rod Steiger, Mel Ferrer, Whit Stillman, and Sean Connery alongside Wayne and countless other name actors (look it up on IMdB, because it’s seriously impressive). Unfortunately, Michael Curtiz’s The Comancheros, which initially pulled me in with its intriguingly winding narrative structure, culminated in a sadly conventional climax, complete with cavalry and all.
The quality of the films’ presentations fluctuates wildly across the set. As such, I suspect that the DVDs collected here reflect a repackaging of Fox’s previous DVD releases of the films. Now I can’t make this claim with 100% certainty, mind you, as I hadn’t the previous releases on hand to make a comparison. But it seems pretty clear to me that this is the case. Therefore, I’d recommend this set only to those who do not already own the pictures collected here in order to avoid any disappointment. After all, while some films appear here with sharp, clean picture, others show numerous signs of wear including scratches and debris, and, especially where Red River is concerned, they can appear rather soft, especially on an HD system. The films’ soundtracks too fluctuate in quality and clarity between films, and more so than you’d expect from films over a 39-year time period given the various technological limitations and developments reflected in each feature. With that in mind, I’d assert that the appeal of this set lies wholly in the quality of the pictures collected here, not in their picture quality.