The Comancheros appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though somewhat erratic, the picture of Comancheros mostly looked good for its age.
Sharpness presented the disc’s main problems. While the majority of the film came across as acceptably concise and accurate, the image definitely took a turn for the hazy at times. Quite a few examples of mild softness marred the presentation. This appears to be a complication connected to Cinemascope lenses, but it still maintained a distraction. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, and the print seemed clean. Virtually no instances of source flaws materialized.
Colors usually looked good. The movie featured an arid palette that fit the Western settings; the tones could be a little too brown at times, but the hues were usually satisfying. Black levels seemed deep and rich, and shadows were acceptable; some “day for night” photography tended to be somewhat dense, but overall clarity was fine. The softness was the biggest issue, and that made this a good but not great “B-“ image.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of The Comancheros worked fine given the movie’s age. The soundfield opened up at times, primarily during action sequences. Those featured decent use of the side channels; movement and panning weren’t particularly strong, but the speakers gave the track a bit of life.
Music showed mild stereo imaging as well; the score spread to the sides but didn’t show especially clear delineation. Occasional instances of localized speech occurred as well. Surround usage tended toward general reinforcement, especially in the action scenes; those brought out a little pizzazz, but the front channels dominated.
Audio quality was decent for its era. Dialogue mostly remained reasonably clear, and I noticed no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Music was a bit flat on occasion but remained acceptably bright and showed some mild dynamic range; a little bass emerged at times. Effects also managed to come across as moderately realistic. They lacked great substance despite some mild bass for louder elements. This was a more than adequate track for a 50-year-old movie.
We get a moderate roster of extras here. We open with an audio commentary from actors Stuart Whitman, Nehemiah Persoff, Michael Ansara and Patrick Wayne. All four were recorded separately for this edited piece; Whitman and Persoff provide some screen-specific comments, but Wayne and Ansara don’t appear to watch the movie as they speak. The participants discuss how they got into movies and aspects of their careers, working with John Wayne, Michael Curtiz and others, and a few elements related to the shoot of Comancheros.
And by “a few”, I do mean “a few” – don’t expect to learn much about Comancheros here. At times, the track threatens to tell us more about 1974’s forgotten Disney flick The Bears and I than about Comancheros; though the last act gets into the latter reasonably well, we still get surprisingly little information about the movie.
This is a tremendously anecdotal piece, and one that tends to focus on the lives of the participants. They tell us stories about their careers and other movies, with the occasional nod toward Comancheros. Of the four, Persoff probably focuses on Comancheros the best, while Wayne likely mentions it the least.
Whether this commentary will work for you depends on what you want from it. If you desire to learn a lot about the creation of Comancheros, abandon hope; there’s just not much content directly connected to that flick. If you want a collection of usually enjoyable stories about show business, though, the commentary becomes much more satisfying. It’s an odd track, but not an unsuccessful one.
Next comes a featurette called The Comancheros and the Battle for the American Southwest. It runs 24 minutes, 13 seconds and includes notes from historians Jeff Kehoe and Martha Doty Freeman, archaeologists Brett Cruse and Douglas Boyd, and Empire of the Summer Moon author SC Gwynne. “Southwest” looks at the facts behind the people and situations reflected in the movie. The program offers a tight, informative take on the background behind the flick; it might be a good show to watch before you check out the film, as it could deliver nice context.
The Duke at Fox lasts 40 minutes, 28 seconds and offers remarks from Whitman, son Ethan Wayne, widow Pilar Wayne, USC Hugh M. Hefner Chair for the Study of American Film Rick Jewell, screenwriter/film historian Courtney Joyner, film historian Tom Schatz, screenwriter’s daughter Samantha Clair Huffaker, and UCLA film history professor Jonathan Kuntz. As indicated by the title, this show looks at the many movies John Wayne shot at Fox. It digs into some with more detail than others, but it creates a nice overview and offers an interesting take on this side of Wayne’s career.
For something unusual, we get a Vintage Comancheros Comic Book. After a 38-second introduction, we get a stillframe depiction of the comic. It fills 95 screens and is fun to see, especially because it occasionally differs from the final film.
More from the actor shows up via an audio-only Conversation with Stuart Whitman. It goes for 12 minutes, seven seconds as Whitman discusses how he got into movies and aspects of his career. Whitman doesn’t tell us much about Comancheros, but he offers some fun stories. I never knew James Dean had a bit part in The Day the Earth Stood Still!
In addition to two trailers, we end with Fox Movietone News. Entitled “Claude King and Tillman Franks Receive Award”, the 52-second clip shows exactly that; we see the two get a prize for… I don’t know. The mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana gives the award, though it’s not clear what award this is or why it was distributed. Well, they won for the song they composed for Comancheros, so at least the newsreel fits here.
For this release, the disc comes in collectible book packaging. It includes a plot synopsis, cast/crew biographies, an essay about Wayne’s legacy and photos. The bios are especially good, and the book completes the set in a nice way. Two insert sheets also offer reproductions of movie posters.
I don’t know how serious John Wayne fans regard 1961’s The Comancheros, but I’d guess it’s seen as “B”-level Duke at best. While not a bad flick, it’s a decidedly mediocre one without a whole lot to allow it to excel. The Blu-ray comes with erratic but generally positive picture and audio as well as a fairly interesting set of supplements. I’ve seen worse Westerns but I’ve seen better, so you might want to dig up one of the “better” candidates instead of the forgettable Comancheros.