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Michael Curtiz
John Wayne, Stuart Whitman, Ina Balin, Nehemiah Persoff, Lee Marvin, Michael Ansara, Patrick Wayne, Bruce Cabot
Writing Credits:
Paul Wellman (novel), James Edward Grant, Clair Huffaker

Texas Ranger Jake Cutter arrests gambler Paul Regret, but soon finds himself teamed with his prisoner in an undercover effort to defeat a band of renegade arms merchants and thieves known as Comancheros.

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Dolby Surround 4.0
Spanish Monaural
French Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 135 min.
Price: $34.98
Release Date: 5/17/2011

• Audio Commentary with Actors Stuart Whitman, Nehemiah Persoff, Michael Ansara and Patrick Wayne
• “The Comancheros and the Battle for the American Southwest” Featurette
• “The Duke at Fox” Documentary
• Vintage Comancheros Comic Book
• “A Conversation with Stuart Whitman” (Audio Only)
• Fox Movietone News
• Trailers

• Collectible Book Packaging


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Comancheros [Blu-Ray] (1961)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 27, 2011)

In an odd coincidence, 1961 marked the end of a surprising number of legendary careers. Both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable ended theirs together with The Misfits, and Michael Curtiz – best known for Casablanca wrapped up with a film that starred another legend via The Comancheros.

Set in 1843, roguish gambler Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman) romances the wrong woman, and the man who desires her (Gregg Palmer) challenges him to a duel to “simplify” her decision by killing his rival. Regret wins the fight, but not really: the dead man’s father is a judge who immediately puts out an order to arrest Regret.

The gambler escapes but finds himself a wanted man in other territories. When he lands in Galveston, Texas Ranger Jake Cutter (John Wayne) takes him in – for a little while, at least. Regret takes a shovel upside Cutter’s head and escapes.

In the meantime, Cutter takes on a case to nail the Comancheros, a gang of outlaws who trade with Comanches. As he explores this undercover, he re-encounters – and re-arrests – Regret. The pair bond as Cutter tries to return Regret to Louisiana and the two of them experience adventures.

With a buddy flick like Comancheros, the film lives and dies on the chemistry between the two leads. In that department, the film disappoints, largely due to the dullness of Whitman’s performance. He creates one of the least interesting rogues in movie history. There’s no real spark or charm to his take on Regret; he’s just a moderately handsome lump without the personality to create the vivid character Regret should’ve been.

This affects most aspects of the film, The interactions between Whitman and Wayne lack spark because of this, though Wayne tries to compensate with a fairly spirited performance. Wayne’s turn as Cutter does little to expand his cinematic horizons – this is very typical Duke – but he seems to enjoy himself and adds life to the role.

Too bad he shows so little chemistry with the leaden Whitman. As the film’s romantic interest, Ina Balin doesn’t provide much vivacity either. She’s gorgeous but just as flat as Whitman. I guess that means they’re a good cinematic couple, but they’re not enjoyable to watch.

In addition to Wayne, a few supporting actors try to elevate the material. Lee Marvin provides a distinctive – albeit brief - performance as a violent scoundrel, and as the head Comanchero, Nehemiah Persoff exhibits a nice sense of understated malice.

Unfortunately, they can’t compensate for the dullness around the movie’s head – or for the generic feel of the whole project. It just doesn’t feel like much ever happens in Comancheros. Action sequences show up infrequently and don’t boast much pop, which seems surprising given Curtiz’s career. With movies like Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood to his credit, he showed a real flair for that area in earlier days.

That skill doesn’t manifest itself in Comancheros. Oh, it musters some decent action, but there’s nothing on display to make the set pieces stand out as memorable or especially exciting. Like the rest of the movie, they keep us moderately engaged and that’s about it.

In truth, I can’t say that there’s much about Comancheros I genuinely dislike; even as dull as they are, Whitman and Balin offer a genial couple. On the other hand, I really can’t think about much here that I do like. We get a few fun performances, a better than average turn from the Duke, and some mildly enjoyable action scenes. If that’s not a recipe for a mediocre Western, I don’t know what is.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

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.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1904 Stars Number of Votes: 63
4 3:
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main