John Ford's relatively unsung masterpiece, WAGON MASTER (1950), was released on DVD last Tuesday, September 15th.
I've loved this movie since I first saw it years ago at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Ford "stock company" favorites like Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., and Ward Bond all have a chance to shine as the film's lead actors. The movie also has stunning black and white photography of Utah locations and a lovely score with songs by the Sons of the Pioneers.
Alongside the sweeping desert panoramas, there are delightful little "bits of business," such as Sandy (Carey) taking off his hat and bowing whenever he approaches lovely Prudence (Kathleen O'Malley).
Although this movie is not as famous as some of Ford's other movies, it's well-loved by those who have had the chance to see it.
Mike Clark of USA Today gives the film a deserved 4-star rating, calling it "poetry with an authentic feel" and noting that William K. Everson, a noted Western historian, said it was "the best Western ever."
Glenn Erickson gave the movie and the DVD itself rave reviews at his DVD Savant website. I enjoyed this comment by Glenn: "...what Wagon Master captures best is a certain 'western feel' that was a big part of America at that time. I caught only a little bit of it as I grew up later in the 1950s. Travis and Sandy sit on a fence haggling over the price of a horse, in blue jeans with the cuffs rolled up. Frankly, it's a feeling of being clean, decent and part of the natural landscape, working in an outdoors with plenty of elbow room and not too many rules."
Dennis Lim's review was published today by the L.A. Times. I found his comment that the movie is "practically a musical" interesting. He also says WAGON MASTER represents "the pinnacle of the [Western] genre's optimistic ideals."
Chris Hicks of the Deseret News calls WAGON MASTER "a great film, a grand western, and one of the best movies about pioneers ever made."
Those who know the movie might be interested to know that the WAGON MASTER screenplay was published in the late '70s as part of the RKO Screenplay Series. It's a paperback with several very nice glossy photos. Used copies are currently available from Amazon starting at under a dollar plus shipping. This book is highly recommended for fans of John Ford in general and WAGON MASTER in particular.
As described in a post here last May, the DVD extras include a commentary track by Peter Bogdanovich and costar Carey, which has received multiple positive comments in reviews.
This film's release is especially welcome given the dearth of classic releases on DVD so far this year. Those who have seen WAGON MASTER before will doubtless welcome the chance to view it again in a beautiful print and hear the commentary; for those who are not yet acquainted with the movie, this DVD is a wonderful opportunity to see a terrific film.
2010 Update: A review of the movie is here.