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Anthony Mann
Henry Fonda, Anthony Perkins, Betsy Palmer
Writing Credits:
Dudley Nichols

A cynical former sheriff turned bounty hunter helps a young, recently appointed acting sheriff with his advice, his experience and his gun.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English LPCM Stereo
English LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 93 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 4/30/2024

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Toby Roan
• “Apprenticing a Master” Featurette
• “Beyond the Score” Featurette
• Image Gallery
• Trailer


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The Tin Star [Blu-Ray] (1957)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 8, 2024)

Stalwarts of the Western genre, director Anthony Mann and actor Henry Fonda only worked together once. 1957’s The Tin Star acts as this sole collaboration.

Bounty hunter Morgan Hickman (Fonda) arrives in a small town with the corpse of wanted outlaw Luke Jamerson in tow. He seeks the reward, but Sheriff Ben Owens (Anthony Perkins) and other locals feel troubled that Morgan didn’t bring Jamerson back alive.

Nonetheless, the rookie lawman clearly admires Morgan’s skills and aplomb. When violent Bart Bogardus (Neville Brand) threatens the town, Morgan acts as Ben’s mentor to deal with this menace.

Best-known for his typical “nice guy” roles, it always seems intriguing to see Fonda as morally ambiguous – or worse – characters. Though Star allows Morgan to function as a hero in some ways, it still makes the part much less “true blue” than we expect from the actor.

Don’t expect Fonda to really veer toward the “dark side”, though. While Morgan may embrace a profession with questionable morality, the character still comes across as more heroic than sleazy.

That means Star becomes less interesting than I’d prefer. If Morgan delivered a role whose ethics we genuinely doubted, the story would come with nuance and depth that it lacks.

Instead, Star winds up as a fairly predictable melange of Western tropes. It seems professional and watchable, but it fails to develop into anything more memorable than that.

Some of the problem comes from the story’s uncertainty about where to focus. At its core, it makes sense for Star to concentrate on Ben and his “coming of age” tale.

At times, this does occur, but Star detours to follow Morgan’s flirtation with domesticity. When he arrives in town, he befriends and stays with widow Nona Mayfield (Betsy Palmer) and her biracial son Kip (Michel Ray).

This allows the film to delve into some social issues related to bigotry, as Star accentuates hatred toward Natives. However, this tends to feel like window-dressing and nothing that really advances the plot.

Norgan’s relationship with Nona and Kip also seems perfunctory. Logically, Star should display a conflict within Morgan as he goes through an internal debate about what direction to allow his life to take.

Instead, these elements seem superficial. Star doesn’t dig into Morgan’s personal journey in a manner that shows introspection or depth.

Again, the issue becomes the dichotomy on display. Star flits between Morgan and Ben without a lot of clarity, and its inability to tell either man’s tale with real verve makes the end result inconsistent.

None of this leaves Star as a bad movie. It brings enough intrigue to keep us with it, and the actors help.

We find a fine cast, and all involved deliver solid work. Fonda doesn’t break a sweat as Morgan, but he adds power, and Perkins portrays the rookie sheriff’s nervous energy well.

I just wish Star managed to give us a tale with more dimensionality and clarity. It flits with too many different character domains to coalesce into a memorable Western.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

The Tin Star appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. A VistaVision production, the image largely excelled.

Sharpness worked well. A few establishing shots came across as slightly soft, but the vast majority of the film boasted strong delineation and accuracy.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and I saw no edge haloes. Print flaws also failed to become an issue.

Blacks appeared deep and taut, while low-light shots boasted appealing clarity and smoothness, albeit with some of the inevitably murky day-for-night shots. This turned into a top-notch presentation.

Taken from a monaural source, the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix didn’t expand matters to a major degree. The movie’s score became the primary beneficiary of this expansion, as the music spread moderately to the side and rear channels.

Effects occasionally boasted movement in the various channels, such as when a pigeon flew from front to back. However, much of the mix remained essentially monaural.

Audio held up fine over the last 67 years, with speech that came across as natural and concise. Music lacked great range, but the score brought generally positive dimensionality.

Effects fell into the same boat, as those elements showed adequate reproduction but they lacked much impact. This turned into a more than adequate mix, even though the 5.1 reworking felt fairly pointless.

The Blu-ray also included both LPCM stereo and LPCM monaural tracks. The stereo mix felt fairly similar in scope to the 5.1 version, albeit without the use of the back channels, of course.

This allowed the stereo version to come across as a bit more natural than the 5.1 edition, as the latter’s expansion to the rear speakers could seem a little awkward. The stereo track continued to show a general lack of much ambition.

In the end, I preferred the mono mix simply because the stereo and 5.1 soundfields just didn’t add anything in particular to the package. They could come across as somewhat artificial at times, so the mono edition seemed more coherent.

In terms of quality, all three tracks felt pretty similar. As such, although I thought the mono made the most sense, viewers who prefer stereo or 5.1 will find audio that fared about the same way.

When we shift to extras, we open with an audio commentary from film historian Toby Roan. He delivers a running, screen-specific look at cast and crew, production notes and his thoughts about the film.

Roan gives us a fairly stiff commentary, as his chat often feels like an annotated Wikipedia entry. While we learn some basics, this doesn’t become an especially deep or insightful discussion.

Two featurettes follow, and Apprenticing A Master goes for 27 minutes, 34 seconds. It offers an “appreciation” from author/critic Neil Sinyard.

“Master” examines cast and crew as well as production elements and his take on the movie. Given its status as an “appreciation”, Sinyard leans toward positive thoughts, but he backs up these opinions with substance so this turns into a fairly informative chat.

Beyond the Score runs 31 minutes, 37 seconds. Here we get notes from Peter Bernstein, son of Star composer Elmer Bernstein.

The younger Bernstein covers life with a famous father as well as aspects of Elmer’s work. We get a unique perspective and Peter provides an engaging view of his dad.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find three Image Galleries. These cover “Promotional” (58 screens), “Stills” (51) and “French Photocomic” (192).

All three offer useful shots. The “Photocomic” – which incorporates movie stills into comic book panels with lettered dialogue – becomes the most fun addition.

A fairly average Western, Tin Star comes with a good cast and some intriguing elements. Unfortunately, it lacks a concise narrative and fails to focus on specific characters as well as it should. The Blu-ray boasts excellent picture along with appropriate audio and a mix of bonus materials. Star deserves a look for genre fans but it fails to rise above the pack.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8 Stars Number of Votes: 5
0 3:
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