Judge Mitchell Hattaway loves the movie, but thinks the varmints responsible for the awful transfer should be strung up like a buncha gol' durn cattle rustlers.
Our review of The Louis L'Amour Western Collection, published May 18th, 2010, is also available.
He conquered the range. She conquered his heart.
Well, look what we have here. It's another DVD of a great Turner Network Television Western ruined by a botched transfer.
Facts of the Case
A restless hired hand named Conn Conagher (Sam Elliott, The Hi-Lo Country) wanders in and out of the lives of recently widowed Evie Teale (Katharine Ross, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and her two young children. Despite his growing attraction to the headstrong Evie, Conagher steadfastly refuses to give up his way of life. He also cannot seem to stop getting into trouble, especially when it comes to locking horns with the men of Ladder Five, a band of rustlers headed up by Smoke Parnell (James Gammon, Cold Mountain) and Tile Coker (Buck Taylor, Tombstone).
Conagher is an undeniably great piece of entertainment. Like the Louis L'Amour novel on which it is based, this made-for-television movie takes a simple, but not simplistic, story and milks it for all it is worth. It's exceptionally well-written, acted, and directed. In fact, I only have one problem with this release, but we'll get to that in a minute.
Elliott and Ross had a hand in adapting the novel (their co-writer was Jeffrey M. Meyer, who has worked on more television series than I can count), and they did a marvelous job. The teleplay is incredibly faithful to the book, and it retains the controlled, straightforward quality of L'Amour's writing; there is not a wasted scene or line of dialogue. This is no surprise, though. Elliott has appeared in so many adaptations of L'Amour's novels he probably knows more about getting the late author's words to the screen than anyone. Heck, you could argue that if Elliott hadn't been born, it would have been necessary for L'Amour to invent him (and vice versa). All in all, it's a nice piece of work.
The man behind the camera is Reynaldo Villalobos, who is probably best known as the cinematographer on such films as Risky Business and Urban Cowboy. Villalobos, who honed his directing skills working on a number of television series, works wonders with the film's Colorado locations. From the wide open vistas, to the farmhouses and towns, the movie's world looks authentic, lived-in. He's no slouch when it comes to storytelling, either. There is a naturalistic, unforced pacing to the film. The first hour unfolds in a deliberate, but not slow, manner; the latter half, during which the two major plot threads come together, picks up speed, moving toward the story's final confrontation and deeply satisfying ending. The action scenes are skillfully and believably staged (there's a good old fashioned Indian attack on Evie's homestead in the first half, and a couple of gunfights between Conagher and the men of Ladder Five in the second), and Villalobos also has a nice feel for the passage of time. All in all, it's a wonderful job.
In addition to the perfectly cast Ross and Elliott, who are so good together they should consider getting married (sorry, but I had to work in at least one bad joke), and the aforementioned Gammon and Taylor, Conagher features work from a number of great Western stalwarts. Barry Corbin (Lonesome Dove) turns up as a stagecoach driver who always has food on his mind. Ken Curtis (Gunsmoke) delivers some nice work as Seaborn Tay, an old cattle rancher who wants nothing more than to live out his last few days in peace. Billy Green Bush (Tom Horn) appears briefly as Evie's soon-to-be-dead husband, and the late, great Dub Taylor (The Wild Bunch) has a short (too short), funny scene as a station agent (in case you didn't know, Buck Taylor is Dub's son). There's also a nice performance from James Parks (Kill Bill: Volume 1), and Gavan O'Herlihy (Willow) does a very good job as Conagher's dubious partner (where's O'Herlihy at these days?). All in all, the cast is uniformly fine.
Conagher arrives on DVD in a no-frills package. The Dolby Stereo soundtrack (mistakenly listed as a mono track on the packaging) features excellent channel separation, some nice low end activity, and clear, well-anchored dialogue; it also serves as a great showcase for J.A.C. Redford's evocative score. The only extras are some previews for other TNT films. Oh, wait, I almost forgot about the transfer. Remember what I mentioned earlier about this release's one flaw? Well, here's the rub: the transfer is awful. It's grainy, riddled with halos, smearing, bleeding colors (the opening titles look like giant red blobs), and artifacts; shadow detail is very poor, which is a big problem given the number of dark scenes in the movie. (There is also evidence of a bit of print damage, but not much.) I know we are dealing with a made-for-television film, and I know it is being marketed at a reasonable price, but couldn't Warner Bros. have put just a little care into this disc? Look at what they do with their old vault titles; in terms of quality and price, those are some of the best discs on the market, so why not spread the love? I can't imagine it would have taken that much spit and polish to produce a nice transfer for this title. Besides, anyone with a VHS copy of this movie and a DVD recorder could achieve the same (if not better) results than what you get on this disc. (That's not to say anyone with a VHS copy and a DVD recorder should make such an attempt. That would be wrong.) Such a beautifully shot and crafted film truly deserves better.
Bringing a Western to DVD with a poor transfer is like bringing a Michael Bay flick to DVD with a mono soundtrack. Why bother? Conagher is definitely worth a look, but I cannot recommend a purchase.
Everyone involved in the production of the film is free to go. Those involved in the production of the DVD are to be gut shot.
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