Judge Ike Oden's soul is made of public domain movies.
He's every man's man.
Mill Creek's John Wayne: The Tribute Collection is a DVD grab bag of twenty-five public domain movies, serials, and documentaries spanning the Duke's career.
Here's how it breaks down:
If you're familiar with Mill Creek's movie/TV mega sets, you probably already guessed that John Wayne: The Tribute Collection is along those same lines, offering over twenty-eight hours worth of public domain content at a very low price. If you can tolerate a series of largely crappy, VHS style transfers complete with equally tinny mono soundtrack, Mill Creek's set will fulfill your diminished cinephile standards. If not, then by all means, please don't buy it. Go buy some John Wayne Blu-rays instead.
As for the rest, you should know that if you've sampled one John Wayne public domain movie collection, you've sampled them all. The Tribute Collection is unique only in the volume of films it contains. The majority of these movies are culled from early in The Duke's career, which means they're sub-par by just about any standard.
Titles like Randy Rides Alone and Texas Terror are western quickies designed around Wayne's larger-than-life matinee idol persona (wooden though it was this early in his career) and feature lots of clunky exposition, bad acting and Wayne doing his own stunts. In the context of his career these films can be regarded as little more than disposable footnotes—fun if you're in the right mindset but laborious to sit through in marathon sessions.
Clocking in at around an hour a piece, these poverty row films make up about a good three-fourths of the set. The majority of these are westerns, with the sole exception from this period being His Private Secretary, a 1933 romantic comedy that's just plain painful to sit through.
Accompanying the early quickies are a smattering of old-fashioned Republic serials, with twelve chapters of Shadow of the Eagle as well as feature length edits of Three Musketeers (retitled Desert Command here) and The Hurricane Express. I've never been huge of serialized films of this period, though their inclusion on the set is appreciated.
The only real meat and potato films of John Wayne: The Tribute Collection are McLintock! and Angel and the Bad Man. While neither film will be compared with The Searchers or Rio Bravo, both are astoundingly well crafted seriocomic westerns.
I've sung the praises of McLintock! in my review of John Wayne: Bigger Than Life. There I gave it a solid "A" that I stand firmly by. Unfortunately, the transfer here is a horrible pan-and-scan hack job that looks like it was a taped off public access showing. McLintock! is a gorgeously shot film and certainly deserves better, especially since it is easily the finest film on the set.
Angel and the Badman fares substantially better in the audio/visual arena, offering a so-so transfer that is clear enough to be watchable. Of Wayne's public domain films, this one is a true gem—the simple story of an outlaw (Wayne in a rare antihero role) rescued by a family of Quakers, only to fall in love with their daughter (Gail Russell, Wake of the Red Witch) and try to go straight.
The story itself is nothing groundbreaking, but the film balances comedy and drama naturally, anchored by a strong performance from Wayne. The Duke's chemistry with the sultry yet wholesome Russell is palatable, as memorable as his pairing with Maureen O'Hara (The Quiet Man, McLintock!, take your pick) or Angie Dickinson (Rio Bravo). The action is intense and romance is sweet and passionate. I dare there's not much more you could want in a John Wayne movie. Well, maybe a musical interlude by Dead Martin.
We've gone over technical specs. Bonus content is equally lacking. The third disc offers up a ton of classic Wayne trailers, none of which are for films on this set. Also included is a much lauded new documentary. The package describes it as a "Tribute retrospect celebrating John Wayne's illustrious career." Really, it's twenty minutes of an older gentleman looking directly at the camera and reading crib notes covering Wayne's life and career off a teleprompter (or, even more likely, Wikipedia). Every now and then he introduces an arbitrarily chosen scene from one of the films on the set, if only to break monotony of his own boring lecture. It's an embarrassing excuse for a documentary that adds nothing new to Wayne's legacy.
Thankfully, The American West of John Ford is also present on the third disc, and while it isn't listed as a bonus feature, that's more or less what it is—a vintage documentary about Ford hosted by Wayne, featuring interviews with Jimmy Stewart (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) and Henry Fonda (My Darling Clementine). It's a creatively made, very fun tribute to one of the greatest directors of all time that almost takes the taste of Mill Creek's half-assed documentary out of your mouth. Almost.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
• IMDb: The Man From Utah
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