Case Number 20849: Small Claims Court

JOHN WAYNE: BIGGER THAN LIFE

Wide Wide World: The Western
Synergy Entertainment // 1958 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Mclintock!
Synergy Entertainment // 1963 // 127 Minutes // Not Rated
No Substitute For Victory
Synergy Entertainment // 1970 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
The American West Of John Ford
Synergy Entertainment // 1971 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
John Wayne: Bigger Than Life
Synergy Entertainment // 1990 // 50 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ike Oden (Retired) // March 7th, 2011

The Charge

The wildest showdown the West ever saw!

The Case

Courtesy of Synergy Entertainment, we have John Wayne: Bigger Than Life. Think of it as a public domain grab bag of the Duke in documentaries, television, and his classic western McClintock!.

Starting with the titular documentary: John Wayne: Bigger Than Life details the life and times of the Duke in very, very broad strokes. It's assembled from still photos and footage taken from public domain sources and narrated by an anonymous announcer whose script feels culled from IMDb, Wikipedia and other open web sources. It was made in 1990, so we know it isn't the case, but the thing feels incredibly slap-dash that anyone with a basic editing program and access to Archive.org could have put it together in 2011. There's no polish, no production value, and no reliable sources. If you're just being introduced to the Duke, I suppose it makes for a mediocre 50 minute set of Cliffs notes. Those even remotely familiar with the man's life and career, this will offer nothing but boredom and frustration here. Scenes from Wayne's early films play on for intervals that last way, way too long, in excruciating effort to pad the film's scant running time to feature length. There isn't enough content here to justify a feature or a documentary. This is more like a student film about The Duke, though I'm not even sure if it's that good.

It's pretty bad when No Substitute For Victory manages to step up the production values (albeit barely). In modern context, this piece of Vietnam War propaganda can only be noted as a curiosity piece. The film accurately sums up Wayne's conservative view of the war, backed up by stage-y testimonials from politicians, generals, and soldiers. Wayne hosts and narrates the majority of the film very awkwardly. The Duke's screen persona is all but gone here as he addresses the camera head-on in a cluttered, White House-style office. His line readings are awkward and surly, though he does seem to be trying. If you're a history buff who digs war-time propaganda, this will give you some fine meat to chew on. Otherwise, I can't imagine any cinephile in their right mind that won't be put to sleep by No Substitute For Victory.

Thank God for The American West of John Ford, a very scripted but very fun documentary on the legendary filmmaker and the technique, philosophy, and personal work ethic of the legendary filmmaker. Hosted in three segments by Wayne, Jimmy Stewart (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) and Henry Fonda (My Darling Clementine), the film focuses more on Ford's life and achievements behind the camera than the real-life man himself. It builds the director up into his own legend, which is perfectly fine with me. No Ford collection is complete without this celebration of the man himself, delivered by his favorite collaborators. Without spoiling too much, a nice, circular ending brings the audience in on Ford's way of looking at the world, a nice comedic stinger that would be well at home in one of the man's films.

The Western continues the fun. Originally apart of ABC's Wide, Wide, World series, this 90-minute documentary suffers from a dated style, but acts as a literal who's who of the western film world in 1958. There are cameos from Wayne, Ford, James Garner (Maverick), Walter Brennan (My Darling Clementine), and many, many more. Wayne sums up his feelings on the western succinctly here, but repeats a lot of the information from The American West of John Ford. Nonetheless, the content covers a lot of range in terms of the western genre itself and is well worth a look if you can tolerate the tropes of classic news documentaries.

McLintock! rounds out the set. This feature comedy reworks The Taming of the Shrew, with land owner G.W. McLintock (Wayne) going toe-to-toe with his estranged wife (Maureen O'Hara, The Quiet Man) when their daughter (Stefanie Powers, Herbie Rides Again) returns home from college. Nearly forty years after its initial release, McLintock! is as fast and witty as ever. The film is a sharply written ode to Wayne's persona, balancing old fashioned ideals with cantankerous slapstick comedy. G.W. is a fun, unpredictable character, easy to respect for the simple values he stands for and loveable for his many stubborn flaws. McLintock's father-son chemistry with his newly hired assistant, played by real-life son Patrick Wayne (Young Guns), is fascinating and believable. Meanwhile, the chemistry created between O'Hara and the Duke in earlier films holds McLintock! together when its pace slows (a subplot involving the rights of captured Indian chiefs, while admirable, has no place here).

This is a collection of public domain materials, with no remastering in sight, meaning the transfer and sound are extremely rough. Prints are scratchy, dirty, even unnaturally pink at times, while the "Synergy Entertainment" watermark pops up ever few minutes to distract you. The soundtracks are all mono and are filled with plenty of hiss, pop, and muffled dialogue.

Only McLintock! comes away unscathed, boasting a beautiful transfer and a very clear mono soundtrack. Why only this print was remastered is beyond me, but I was very surprised at the quality of this anamorphic transfer. I'm not sure how it stands up to Paramount's previous edition, but it looks and sounds great here.

In terms of extras, John Wayne Bigger Than Life has an episode of People Are Funny with a Duke cameo, a brief Wayne appearance on the Colgate Comedy Hour, and an episode of The Lucy Show with Lucille Ball wreaking havoc on the set of a John Wayne movie. The latter is the best among them, proving Wayne was as adept at comedy as he was at mocking himself. His chemistry with Ball is so good I can only wonder why those two never made a movie together.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2011 Ike Oden; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Wide Wide World: The Western
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Wide Wide World: The Western
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1958
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Wide Wide World: The Western
* None

Scales of Justice, Mclintock!
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile, Mclintock!
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 127 Minutes
Release Year: 1963
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Mclintock!
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, No Substitute For Victory
Judgment: 60

Perp Profile, No Substitute For Victory
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 1970
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, No Substitute For Victory
* None

Scales of Justice, The American West Of John Ford
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile, The American West Of John Ford
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The American West Of John Ford
* None

Scales of Justice, John Wayne: Bigger Than Life
Judgment: 40

Perp Profile, John Wayne: Bigger Than Life
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 50 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, John Wayne: Bigger Than Life
* Bonus Footage

Accomplices
* IMDb: John Wayne: Bigger Than Life
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0248927/combined

* IMDb: No Substitute For Victory
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0066157/combined

* IMDb: The American West of John Ford
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0066759/combined

* IMDb: The Western
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0748264/combined

* IMDb: McLintock!
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0057298/combined