Warner Bros. // 1976 // 136 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // January 19th, 2000
An army of one.
In 1976, Clint Eastwood made a western that was a welcome departure from his nameless hero films. The Outlaw Josey Wales has a hero with a heart, and a story that brings out the best of the western genre. One of my favorite Western films, it is a great value in this Warner budget-priced DVD.
If you read my recent ruling on Silverado, it will be no secret that I am a fan of the Western genre. But I will be the first to admit there is a wide disparity of quality amongst those films, and there are only four Westerns in my DVD collection to date. One of those four is The Outlaw Josey Wales, and was one of the first discs I bought when I got a player. It is truly one of Clint Eastwood's best films. The cinematography is simply wonderful, and the main characters have depth and believability.
The film comes from a novel called "Gone to Texas" by Cherokee storyteller Forrest Carter. I read this book and really enjoyed it, and was even happier when I found out a movie had been made from it. The book remains very faithful to the novel in terms of character and events, with one notable exception. A whole subplot and nemesis were added for dramatic effect, and it holds up less well than the rest of the film, though it might not seem that way for someone who has not read the book.
The story begins with Josey Wales as a Missouri farmer with a wife and son early in the Civil War. States along the Mason/Dixon line such as Missouri were partially out of the war, but gangs of irregular soldiers raided on both sides. A group of such irregulars from Kansas burn Josey's farm, and kill his wife and son. The leader of the gang leaves Josey with a sword slash across his face, leaving him unconscious. After he awakes and buries his family, he is sitting in shock when William "Bloody Bill" Anderson and his Missouri irregulars happen by. When they tell him they're going to Kansas to "set things right" he finds a new purpose. The timeline moves to the end of the war, with Bloody Bill dying and the Missouri band being the last of the Confederate side who haven't accepted amnesty from the Union to end their fighting. To the victors go the spoils; the Kansas redlegs who did the same thing as the Missouri fighters are now in positions of authority to bring retribution for the war to the south. When the irregulars decide to go into the Union camp and give their oath for amnesty Josey declines. His war, with himself as much as anything, is not over. When it turns out that the Union has no intention of giving amnesty to his friends, and wants to kill them, Josey comes to the rescue. He and a young boy named Jamie (Sam Bottoms, Apocalypse Now, The Last Picture Show, Bronco Billy) get away with the Redleg-led army behind. A large reward is set for Josey, dead or alive, and he becomes the most wanted man around. Unfortunately Jamie is badly wounded, and doesn't make it, but not until they have a few adventures, including giving the Union a "Missoura boat ride."
Later Josey sneaks up on an old Indian in the woods. Lone Watie, played by Chief Dan George (Little Big Man, The Bears and I). This charming old man often steals his scenes, and gets the best lines. He begins dressed like Abraham Lincoln, dress he adopted for going to Washington and being told to "Endeavor to Persevere." He quips to Josey, "We thought about it for a long time, 'Endeavor to persevere.' And when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union." and "I didn't surrender, but they took my horse and made him surrender. They have him pulling a wagon up in Kansas I bet." Finally Josey decides to go with Lone Watie to Mexico, but events along the way change everything.
He picks up an Indian squaw and a dog along the way, and then rescues a group of homesteaders. Taking them to their ranch, he finds that the Comanche chief Ten Bears intends to wipe them out. In one of the classic scenes of Western film, Josey faces down Ten Bears and all his tribe.
Leaving off the plot, I'll talk about the disc. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer looks great, though there is a flaw or two. Colors look crisp, and the scenery is warm and detailed. Blacks are very black, and flesh tones are dead on. The overall impression is a very good one. The 5.1 audio mix is outstanding. The surrounds get used both subtly during outdoor scenes and more obviously during the gunfire and horses running. The front soundstage is deep and broad. The Oscar nominated score by Jerry Fielding is very dynamic and moody as well, and comes off beautifully here. Dialogue remains clear and crisp throughout. As for extra content, I'm not unhappy. This disc comes from Warner's budget line and retail price is 19.95, and I bought it for less than $12 at a Wal-Mart. For this budget price I got the anamorphic transfer and 5.1 re-mix, but also got extensive production notes, cast and crew bios and filmographies, and 13 trailers, all westerns or Clint Eastwood films. While I'm mentioning Mr. Eastwood, I should also mention he directed this film and give the obligatory film reference -- True Crime, Absolute Power, Heartbreak Ridge -- if you actually need one.
There are a couple small deficiencies in the video. First off there is extensive dust and blips in the opening credits that do not appear afterwards. During a couple scenes in the middle, the quality of the print went down a bit, and the scenes look a bit washed out. Shadows are perhaps overly dark, obscuring detail, but I believe that was intentional in the shooting. These are small complaints, and the overall impression of the video is great.
If you like a good Western, this is a great choice. You don't even need to check your brain at the door to enjoy this one. This film was perhaps the best example of when Clint Eastwood expanded into a better actor and director, and all the acclaim and awards that came with it. The DVD doesn't cost much, and if you like trailers you're in heaven here.
Clint Eastwood is excused from this court, with our regrets for wasting his time. Warner is commended on a great disc, but a request from the court for special edition treatment is entered into the official report.
Review content copyright © 2000 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 136 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Production Notes
* Talent Bios
* Theatrical Trailers