Sunday, July 26, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Virginian (1946) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Last month I reviewed Alan Ladd in WHISPERING SMITH (1948) from the new Western Classics I collection released by Kino Lorber.

Tonight I returned to the set to watch Joel McCrea as THE VIRGINIAN (1946). I hadn't seen this film since 2010 and have looked forward to revisiting it.

I'd forgotten over the past decade that THE VIRGINIAN's story is mostly seen through the eyes of Molly Wood (Barbara Britton), an Eastern schoolteacher newly arrived in the frontier town of Medicine Bow.

Molly longed for a more adventurous life than she'd have in her hometown, but even so, she's not quite sure what to make of the wild Western town or its inhabitants, who include a cowboy known only as the Virginian (McCrea) and his pal Steve (Sonny Tufts).

Molly and the Virginian start off on the wrong foot, but he's smitten with pretty Molly and persistent in courting her. Molly gradually unbends, discovering that the Virginian is an honorable man; however, she's dismayed when he must mete out frontier justice, first when Steve is caught cattle rustling and later when he's challenged to a shootout by evil Trampas (Brian Donlevy).

Much like WHISPERING SMITH, THE VIRGINIAN isn't a great Western, but it's solid and enjoyable entertainment. The main issue working against the film is that the screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (THE THIN MAN) could have done a better job developing the story and title character, as except for key scenes of conflict, we don't know much about the interior life of the Virginian; instead the audience mostly sees him through Molly's eyes, only learning about him gradually.

That formula works to an extent, but the story is truncated, with references to some events we don't see, so the character development is on the thin side. At 87 minutes, this is a movie which could easily have stood another 10 minutes or so to more fully develop the character of the Virginian and his relationship with Molly. Instead, we're left with something of an enigma when it comes to the leading man.

The longest section of the film focusing on the Virginian is unfortunately also the most disturbing part of the movie, when the Virginian has to deal with the fact his old pal Steve is on the wrong side of the law. I frankly find this part of the film difficult to watch.

The rest of the movie I quite enjoy. Britton's initial rejection of the Virginian may be overdone -- I mean, he's Joel McCrea! -- but I like Britton, who starred in a favorite mystery, COVER UP (1949), and I appreciated that the movie is different from the norm in its focus on the leading lady. McCrea, of course, is always a pleasure to watch.

Donlevy, dressed all in black, is terrific as the sardonic, nasty Trampas, and Tufts is sympathetic as Steve, a nice guy who makes some really bad choices. I especially enjoyed Fay Bainter and Henry O'Neill as the settlers responsible for hiring Molly. The fine cast also includes Tom Tully, William Frawley, Nana Bryant, Paul Guilfoyle, Marc Lawrence, Willard Robertson, Vince Barnett, and Ann Carter.

The movie was directed by Stuart Gilmore, and the beautiful Technicolor photography was by Harry Hallenberger, with most of the exteriors shot on Southern California ranches. The Goodrich-Hackett script was based on Howard Estabrook's adaption of the classic Owen Wister novel.

The last time I saw this film was on VHS, so while I can't compare the Blu-ray to DVD releases of the past decade, it was a big upgrade for me which I really enjoyed watching. The print is crisp, with a strong soundtrack.

Extras on the disc include a commentary by Lee Gambin and Rutanya Alda, the trailer, and an additional trailer for another Joel McCrea Western.

A fun postscript: Last year at a fundraiser for McCrea Ranch I won posters for THE VIRGINIAN in a raffle! You can read about that event in a column I wrote for Classic Movie Hub.

Still to come is a review of the final film in this Western set, WHEN THE DALTONS RODE (1940) starring Randolph Scott.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Nail hit firmly on the head, Laura! - "Not a great western but solid and enjoyable entertainment". Just so.

Watching the TV version (which I do quite often) it is perplexing to see such a nasty character as Trampas from the book and two films turn out to be handsome, likeable Doug McClure portraying Trampas as a very good guy. The friendship of Trampas and Steve in the first two seasons and their friendship with the foreman, The Virginian, is just one of the reasons for enjoying the series.

3:49 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

My DVD from a Joel McCrea collection is gorgeous. I can't image those Technicolor images looking any better than they do, but on the other hand nothing about today's technology surprises me.

5:18 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I disagree completely -- a great western, and the only thing disturbing about Steve's demise is that he is or was an idiot. The performances are uniformly brilliant, including an unbilled James Burke, who has a moment driving his stagecoach with Britton that helps her understand her place alongside The Virginian -- who represents the entire nation, therefore no name required. Unlike Whipster Smith, or When the Daltons Rode, this film is about something; an antidote to the stupidity of CanyonPassage. The Virginian takes care of business rather than allow his community to go under, as does Logan in the other picture.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Jerry,

It's definitely interesting how the TV version of THE VIRGINIAN "remodeled" the characters of Trampas and Steve! Fortunately I'd read the novel a couple times before I first saw this movie or I'd have been very confused (grin). The TV series is a longtime favorite.

Great to hear your DVD looks great, Caftan Woman!

Barrylane, I don't disagree that Steve's "sentence" was wrong -- he knew the consequences and did it anyway. It's simply that I don't enjoy watching that whole thing. To the extent possible I pretty much avoid watching anything to do with lynchings or hangings, just personal preference. That said, while as you know I love CANYON PASSAGE, you draw a compelling contrast between the choices made by the heroes of THE VIRGINIAN and CANYON PASSAGE and the resulting outcomes for their towns.

The scene with the stage driver and Molly is terrific.

Best wishes,

8:34 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

After your recommendation I watched The Virginian the first time and mostly agree with your assessment, Laura. It's good but not great. Maybe it has to do with the fact that there is really not too much chemistry between McCrea and Britton. Molly is very pretty but definitively a bit wet. Their romance is sweet, honestly a bit too sweet for my taste. :)

The best scenes were definitively the hanging, awful as it was, and Fay Banter's "Code of the West" speech. Loved that.

6:10 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I thought Barbara adorable; she did a picture with Louis, released the same year, Return of Monte Cristo, and the chemistry was front and center. Very sexy.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

I haven't seen Return of Monte Christo. I'll try to find it.

7:49 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Margot, I enjoyed hearing your thoughts on THE VIRGINIAN! I didn't have issue with the sweetness, just not enough "there" there, if you know what I mean... The Fay Bainter scene telling Molly off was terrific.

Have you seen COVER UP with Barbara Britton and Dennis O'Keefe? Really love that one. I need tos ee RETURN OF MONTE CRISTO as well!

Best wishes,

9:45 PM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

No, haven't seen Cover Up, but it's on my list. And of course it's on :) What would I do without them?

9:03 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Thanks for recommending Cover Up. That was a nice little movie. Sign me up for the Dennis O'Keefe fan club.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Margot! Delighted you enjoyed COVER UP. I loved the development of O'Keefe and Britton's relationship in that, it's so sweet. A "cozy" movie I've enjoyed rewatching more than once. :)

Glad to have another member of the Dennis O'Keefe fan club!

Best wishes,

9:36 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

What has been going on in Portland these months seems as if that idiot Logan Stuart is still running the place. Just a fact-based observation.

7:37 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Portland is my husband's birthplace so it's been especially sad to follow what's happening there. We had a a lovely visit in the city just a year ago. I agree they need a little less "Logan Stuart" and a little more "The Virginian" there...and will leave it at that, so we can all come here to forget about those things for a brief while. :)

Best wishes,

10:29 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Love and kisses, Laura.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

As you guys probably know I live in Portland nowadays. Well, thankfully in the suburbs. It's truly unbelievable that this rioting is passed off as "protesting". But it's not only Portland. Other cities have nightly rioting too.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I have thought of you periodically when I hear the stories, Margot, and am glad you live in the suburbs. It's such a gorgeous area, we loved visiting and are sad to see this happening. And you're quite right about it happening elsewhere too.

Best wishes,

4:15 PM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Margot, stay safe and healthy. As you may know we've had to spend a lot of the time in St. Louis, Missouri of late. The demonstrations turned into riots there. I was glad that we were at the edge of where this was happening, but then they marched on the mayor's house. This was on the other side of the park where we were staying. A little too close.

First of all, people do not have the right to riot. Rioting is not a peaceful protest.

Laura, I won't get political here, because this is not the forum for that. Stay safe and healthy.

2:43 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Thanks Walter. I read your comments about you and your wife over on Colin's. All the best to you both.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Margot, you are welcome. We all have to hold on firmly during these trying times. Well, back around to some better thoughts. I hope you are getting your "mojo" back and will give us some more of your well written thought provoking write-ups.

Stay safe and healthy.

9:58 PM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Walter, I'm afraid the mojo is still a bit in the dumps. Stay tuned.

6:53 AM  

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