The Horse Soldiers (1959)

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Released 18-Aug-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Western Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1959
Running Time 114:42
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By John Ford
Studio
Distributor

MGM
Starring John Wayne
William Holden
Constance Towers
Judson Pratt
Hoot Gibson
Ken Curtis
Willis Bouchey
Bing Russell
O.Z. Whitehead
Hank Worden
Chuck Hayward
Denver Pyle
Strother Martin
Case ?
RPI $14.95 Music David Buttolph
Stan Jones


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
French
Italian
Spanish
Dutch
Swedish
Finnish
Norwegian
Danish
Portuguese
Smoking Yes, cigars and tobacco chewing.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The Horse Soldiers is the third John Wayne DVD I have reviewed here at Michael D's. Chronologically it fits almost mid-way between the other two (The Spoilers and Cahill: United States Marshal). While those two films were fairly standard Westerns, this one is a Cavalry film set during the American Civil War. Although Wayne is in a fairly typical role here as a Union cavalry commander, the story this time is based on actual events: a daring raid the Union made on a rail junction hundreds of miles behind Confederate lines.

    The film is directed by long time Wayne collaborator John Ford (you will find another Wayne / Ford film, The Searchers, in my top 10 DVD list). While not in the same class as the so-called "Cavalry Trilogy" Ford directed (Fort Apache, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande), The Horse Soldiers is a suitable coda in a minor key. While arguably not as well known nowadays as some of his contemporaries, Ford, as befits the winner of four Oscars, rarely made a film without at least a few memorable scenes.

    As the film begins, the war has not been going well for the Union, but they are about to begin a siege of the key city of Vicksburg which will help them turn the tide. The decision is made to destroy the railway junction at Newton Station to disrupt Confederate supply lines in the area. Colonel Marlowe (Wayne) is placed in charge, and is soon in conflict with his superiors when he finds that he has less men than he asked for, and no artillery support. He is even less happy to find that he has to take along a surgeon, Major Kendall (William Holden), and they are soon arguing over the fitness of some of the men chosen for the mission. The repartee between these two major box-office stars is one of the highlights of the film - both are in fine form here.

    The raid stars off inauspiciously as the cavalry column is ambushed at 16:20. Even worse, a proud southern lady ("Soldiers - how wonderful") discovers secret details about the mission and they have to drag her along with them to stop her alerting Confederate forces. Miss Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers) soon proves to be a feisty thorn in Marlowe's side, their developing relationship being of some interest, but also one of the more problematic elements in the story. In fact, one dinner scene, in which the scantily clad Hunter leans towards Marlowe and asks if he would prefer "The leg or the breast?" highlights the weakness of the script which is the main failing of the film.

    While Wayne fans will find much to enjoy here, the rest of you may well be less than impressed with the way the story meanders along, trying to decide if it is a war film, or a drama, or a romance with comic elements. Those of us who are fans of the director (and of The Searchers in particular) will be happy with cameos such as that of Hank Worden (Mose Harper in that film) who has a nice turn here as Deacon Clump. There are also some nice directorial flourishes, including some very effective head on shots of troops charging into battle and a moving sequence involving the young students at a Confederate military academy. I was rather confused though by the appearance of some key musical themes from The Searchers late in the film - I'm not sure if Ford was intending some subtle thematic link between the Civil War setting here and the post Civil War setting there.

    I should also touch on the condition of the picture and sound on offer here, which I will go into in more detail later in the review. The fact is that they are less than satisfactory in this day and age, but that is probably an unfortunate consequence of financial considerations. As a minor entry in the Western genre this disc is likely to have a small target market, which would have made the cost of any restoration prohibitive against any likely financial return. On its release this disc was available for under $13, and I have since seen it at around the $10 mark - at that price it is value enough for fans of the star or director, but there are much better purchases out there for the rest of you.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    This film is now 44 years old, and on the evidence of this transfer it is not ageing well. From the opening minutes this has the look of a well worn exhibition print - it may be that there is no preservation master in existence.

    The aspect ratio is 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, and it is encoded with Auto Pan & Scan information (for those that desire this). The original theatrical projection ratio was slightly different at 1.66:1; I am not certain if there is slight cropping or if the picture has been stretched in some way - there is no visual evidence of either here so that this small variation from the correct aspect ratio is not of as much concern as it might be.

    The picture is a little dull overall, looking somewhat faded. It has soft focus (and is sometimes almost fuzzy) and rather poor shadow detail (as at 75:33 where there is limited detail). There is only minor low level noise.

    The colour by De Luxe has faded with time, but is variable between reels. At times flesh tones are warm and natural, and trees have a bright green, and at others colours are harsh and unnatural.

    Hmm, I have to talk about artefacts now, and the physical state of the picture - but where to begin? The transfer exhibits constant grain, and positive and negative artefacts of all shapes and colours. There is telecine wobble at times (a bad patch at 25:35 where the film seems to have almost jumped out of its path) along with the odd tear (as at 13:28). With all this in mind, the transfer is still acceptable for fans, it is just very disappointing to see this sort of thing in the DVD age.

    Of the many available options I watched part of the film with the English Hard of Hearing subtitles. The audio cues during these titles are very good, while the representation of dialogue is adequate.

    I did not notice the layer change on my equipment.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    I have rated the audio transfer slightly higher than the video, but that is only because it is probably a reasonably accurate reproduction of the original audio, but is less than stellar in its own right.

    There are five Dolby Digital 2.0 mono tracks on the disc, all encoded at bitrates of 192 Kb/s. I listened to the English track in its entirety, and to portions of the Spanish. The latter has all of the attractions of a typical dubbed track, demonstrating the impossibility of finding a Spanish voice actor who sounds anything like the embodiment of the imposing presence of John Wayne up on the screen. The actor who dubbed Holden fares better. All of the audio tracks are recorded at a very low level.

    Dialogue is reasonable, though a little difficult to understand at times. I found the clarity improved if I switched my amplifier to Pro Logic mode. Audio sync is good.

    The music is infrequent and undistinguished when it is present. The composer (David Buttolph) is no Max Steiner though he does borrow some of Steiner's themes from The Searchers thereby providing one of the few musical highlights of the film. The volume level of the music is fine relative to the rest of the audio, and the song I Left My Love by Stan Jones projects nicely.

    There is no surround presence or activity in the audio. The mono sound is flat and recessed, but improves marginally when the amplifier is in Pro Logic mode, which is the preferred method of listening in this case. In this mode the dialogue is focused at the screen centre, rather than floating diffusely around otherwise.

    Your subwoofer will have a nice rest during this film - it may add some minor bass to the music, but hardly contributes, even when there are some major explosions taking place on the screen.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There is a Theatrical Trailer. There is a Theatrical Trailer. There is a Theatrical Trailer. Hmm, even if I say it three times it just doesn't seem enough.

Menu

    The menu is static with no audio. From it you can watch the film, select a scene (from 16), select the audio, or watch the trailer.

Original Theatrical Trailer

    Running 1:20 at an aspect ratio of around 1.33:1 this is a typically hyperbolic but interesting 1950s period piece. It is just as badly damaged as the main feature but the colour is better - I suppose it hasn't seen much use over the years.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 version of this disc is missing a few of the language and subtitle options of the Region 4 version, but is at the correct aspect ratio of 1.66:1, which gives it the (oh so slight) edge.

Summary

    This is a minor entry in the filmography of the stars and the director (in spite of what the Theatrical Trailer says). At budget price it will (barely) satisfy fans but there are better Westerns out there on better DVDs.

    The video transfer on offer here is ordinary.

    The audio transfer is an accurate representation of the original mono sound.

    The extras are: a Trailer!

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Robert Davison (read my bio)
Saturday, June 11, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-K350, using Component output
DisplaySONY VPL-HS10 LCD projector, ABI 280cm 16x9 screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderKenwood. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationKenwood
SpeakersKenwood

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