Here’s another nice collection of hard-to-find Universal titles from the TCM Vault Collection: “Western Horizons,” a five disc set that features Raoul Walsh’s “Saskatchewan” (1954), Budd Boetticher’s “Horizons West” (1952), John Sturges’s “Backlash” (1956), George Marshall’s “Pillars of the Sky” (1956) and George Sherman’s “Dawn at Socorro” (1954). The Marshall is the only dog here, though one might prefer a stronger director than Sturges for “Backlash,” which features Richard Widmark and Donna Reed in a Borden Chase screenplay that feels like it might have been written for Anthony Mann and James Stewart. The Boetticher is one of his best westerns before he really found his voice with “Seven Men from Now,” and “Saskatchewan” is one of Walsh’s terrific “map movies,” where the goal is to get from Point A to Point B — in this case, by accompanying Alan Ladd and Shelley Winters across western Canada and some mighty fine location work.
The revelation for a lot of people is going to be George Sherman’s risk-taking “Dawn at Socorro,” an audacious re-framing of the OK Corral story that imagines the Doc Holliday character (Rory Calhoun) surviving the shoot-out with the Clantons and trying to get out of the game, only to find himself in a town that exactly resembles the one he just left. There’s some highly imaginative staging here: a lot of the action takes place in a crowded saloon, where the main characters warily keep an eye on each other while nothing much happens, and there’s a stylized showdown at the end that makes use of some striking high-angle compositions that suggest Hitchcock more than Ford.
Also out this week is “The Philo Vance Murder Mystery Collection,” a six-film set from Warner Archives that is mainly notable for featuring a good transfer of Michael Curtiz’s 1933 “The Kennel Murder Case” — a public domain title that has been circulating in hideous dupes for as long as I can remember. It’s crisply directed by Curtiz and shows off some early zoom work as well as a couple of ingeniously constructed sets. The film was a personal favorite of the venerable William K. Everson, who called it “one of the very best films of its genre,” and it’s good to have it back in such fine form.
My New York Times reviews are here.