Fox // 1959 // 121 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // April 3rd, 2013
Wherever you've been...whatever you've seen...you've never run into anything like Warlock!
First things first: don't buy this DVD. No, that suggestion has nothing to do with the quality of the film itself. This DVD release offers a non-anamorphic transfer, trapping the glorious Cinemascope imagery inside a relatively small box on your screen. The strange thing is that Fox released a proper anamorphic DVD a few years back, and now they've chosen to take a step backwards for this new release from the "Cinema Archive" series (a manufactured-on-demand DVD-R line comparable to what Warner Bros. is doing with the Warner Archive series). In fact, the transfer was so painful to sit through that after a half-hour, I stopped the film and streamed the rest of the movie in glorious anamorphic widescreen via Netflix. I've made my share of complaints about other manufactured-on-demand services, but Warner Archive looks like The Criterion Collection in contrast to Fox's similar endeavor. No movie deserves to be treated like this in 2013.
The real tragedy in this case is that Warlock is a movie that deserves much better. It's an exceptional western boasting an impressive cast, and it remains an overlooked treat. As our story begins, the titular town is overrun by vicious thugs of all sorts. The locals find themselves incapable of fighting back, so they hire famed gunslinger Clay Blaisedell (Henry Fonda, 12 Angry Men) to come in and clean up the town. Initially, Clay's efforts are greeted with cheers, but after a while things start getting complicated. Local citizen (and former criminal) Johnny Gannon (Richard Widmark, The Alamo) becomes the new sheriff and becomes a competitor of sorts for Clay. A woman from Clay's past turns up claiming that Clay and his partner Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn, Revenge) are murderers. Soon, it becomes clear that Warlock is too small for all of these figures to peacefully co-exist.
Warlock is the sort of thoughtful western which became increasingly fashionable throughout the 1950's -- rather than simply telling the story of a guy who comes in and cleans up the town, it's an examination of a gunslinger's identity crisis in the ever-evolving west. Though it's very clear that the movie is Clay's story, the film itself seems hesitant to endorse that idea: it names the film after the town and gives first billing to Richard Widmark (who spends a sizable portion of the movie glowering in the background). Perhaps the studio heads at Fox were nervous about emphasizing the fact that a morally murky character was the central figure of their film, but there's no question that this is Fonda's movie. It's a terrific role for the actor, one that allows plenty of room for the sort of gentle charm he essayed so often but also offers just a faint preview of the iconic steeliness he would bring to Once Upon a Time in the West.
The supporting cast is exceptional, too. Widmark does strong work as the surly local figure who eventually morphs into the film's White Hat Cowboy, and Anthony Quinn turns in an atypically gentle performance as Fonda's weary right-hand man. I flat-out love DeForest Kelley as the scuzzy Curley Burne; Kelley's Cheshire-cat grin and southern drawl make him one of the film's most instantly memorable characters. Dorothy Malone and Dolores Michaels handle themselves well enough, but the female roles aren't as well-developed as the male roles (A sample line of dialogue: "I'm a woman -- I don't have thoughts, I have feelings!"). Director Edward Dmytryk wraps all of these performances into a sprawling, often unpredictable western that reminds us of why the phrase "horse opera" was so often used to describe the genre.
I've pretty much said what needs to be said on the transfer, but let me also add that the Dolby 1.0 Mono track is merely functional. It's clean and clear enough, but never really exceptional. There are no supplements included on the disc.
In short: Warlock is a fine film, but this DVD release is an abomination. A shame.
The disc is guilty, the flick is free to go.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Release Year: 1959
MPAA Rating: Not Rated