Release Date(s)1959 (September 29, 2015)
Studio(s)United Artists (Kino Lorber)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: D-
The Wonderful Country (1959) could hardly be called a typical western. Though many of the elements of the genre are there, the film instead is a melancholy exploration of violence, betrayal, loyalty, community, guilt and responsibility. The movie by director Robert Parrish (an Academy Award-winning editor whose directorial credits include The Bobo and segments of Casino Royale) has recently been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber as part of its Studio Classics series.
Featuring a screenplay by Robert Ardrey (Madame Bovary, Khartoum) based on the popular 1880s-set novel by Tom Lea, The Wonderful Country stars Robert Mitchum as Martin Brady. Brady, an American, had fled to Mexico years earlier after killing his father’s murderer, but is forced to return to his homeland to broker a weapons deal for Mexican Governor Castro (Pedro Armendariz). But when the guns are stolen, Brady’s life is turned upside down. Before long, he’s fallen in the sights of an army major (Gary Merrill) and his wife (Julie London) as well as a captain of the Texas Rangers (Albert Dekker). Everybody wants something from Brady, including the Mexican Governor and his brother, a general, and his loyalties are tested for the duration of the 98-minute film.
Director Parrish keeps the elegiac story moving at a deliberate slow burn, with plenty of time for audiences to savor the grand vistas, and striking and beautiful Technicolor location photography, by Academy Award winner Floyd Crosby (father of Crosby Stills and Nash’s David) and Canada-born, Mexico-based Alex Phillips. Crosby and Phillips emphasize the vastness of the Mexican locations and just how small humans are in relationship to nature. Thoughtful and moody, The Wonderful Country is short on violence and thrills but long on characterization and intensity. There are climactic scenes of gunplay and action on horseback near its conclusion, however, when Mitchum encounters Apaches, and in its final moments.
Mitchum, speaking with a subtle Mexican-tinged accent, plays the brooding Brady well, emphasizing his weariness and resignation. The supporting cast is uniformly strong, too, although it’s Mitchum who carries the picture. (His company, D.R.M. Productions, also produced the film and set it up at United Artists.) Siren of song Julie London shows admirable restraint in her role as Helen Colton. London, no stranger to westerns, uses her breathy, smoky voice well and conveys warmth as a conflicted wife torn between her husband and the fugitive Brady. The small but pivotal role of Sgt. Tobe Sutton is portrayed by Leroy “Satchel” Paige, the baseball hero who was the first Negro League player to pitch in the World Series. Pedro Armendariz conveys the requisite menace as the Mexican Governor. (Unsurprisingly, his character’s surname of Castro didn’t go over well when the movie reached Cuban shores in 1961.) The original novel’s author, Tom Lea, also has a cameo as a barber.
Kino Lorber’s 1:66:1, 1080p Blu-ray presentation has inconsistent video quality, though by and large this is the best The Wonderful Country has looked on home video. The Technicolor hues, particularly in the outdoor, daylight sequences, are often vivid. Grain is intact, but there are numerous examples of scratching, speckling and blemishes throughout. Audio quality is acceptable on both dialogue and Alex North’s melodic, rousing score. North (A Streetcar Named Desire, Spartacus) provided a classic Hollywood-style score that could only have been composed for a western, with moments of adventure, high drama and playful humor. The Blu-ray includes English subtitles. The only bonuses are the film’s trailer plus trailers for 1955’s Man with the Gun and 1969’s Young Billy Young, both starring Robert Mitchum.
A “thinking man’s” western, The Wonderful Country may not be the most exciting western to come out of an era in which so many remarkable motion pictures were made. Its potent performances, exquisite cinematography, stirring score, and provocative story, however, make Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray well worth the time for enthusiasts of the genre.
- Joe Marchese