Restored Major Dundee, The Big Gundown, and the sad case of The Alamo.

July 24, 2014 | By



Just uploaded are two westerns restored for home video from near-pristine elements and available in gorgeous Blu-ray editions, but before I cite the films and their respective labels, I can’t help but chime in on the recent fracas between film historians, websites, fans and the studio at the centre of what may well be a disaster that’s not in the making, but on target.

Roughly since May, The DigitalBits have commented and cross-posted links regarding the state of John Wayne’s epic The Alamo, a film that cost $12 million dollars in 1960, was given a deluxe roadshow exhibition, and was subsequently cut down to improve pacing, eliminate some big chunks of weak writing, and in the studio’s eyes, improve upon a flawed film.

It wasn’t until 1991 when a 70mm print of the longer version was found in Toronto (Hey! My home town! Who knew?) that fans of the Duke could see this legendary film on home video. Both the 1992 laserdisc and VHS releases sported the longer version, but when the film emerged on DVD, everyone familiar with Wayne’s pet project screamed (quite justifiably) ‘Where’s the Director’s Cut?!?!’

The DVD does contain the laserdisc’s nostalgic documentary John Wayne’s The Alamo (1992), which chronicles the film’s lengthy production, but its mere inclusion on disc seemed to add further confusion as to why the Director’s Cut wasn’t selected in the first place, if not presented in a special edition featuring both versions.

This was around the time MGM’s European branches produced and released several special editions that took several years to reach North America, including Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy, and the big budget WWII films A Bridge Too Far (1977) and Battle of Britain (1969).

One reason for their restriction from Region 1 land was pure economics: with the studio making steady money selling bare bones editions of their back catalogue in big box stores like Walmart and Costco, why bother with new transfers and the production of special feature content?

MGM’s own state was very rocky around this time with takeovers and near-bankruptcy, making any kind of film preservation very low on the priority list.

A meticulous blow-by-blow account of The Alamo and MGM’s interconnected histories lie in Bud Elder’s lengthy, must-read piece at The DigitalBits, but the punchline is pretty sad: the film can be saved from further deterioration for roughly $1.5 million, but MGM’s view is ‘the film is fine. There’s no need to panic.’

What’s shocking is that as far back as 2004, the year The Alamo was released on DVD, film restorationist Robert H. Harris was already trying to bring attention to the film’s fragile state. That was 10 years ago.

I’m not a fan of The Alamo, but if Sony can restore the deeply flawed Major Dundee (as they did in 2005), why can’t MGM not save John Wayne’s most personal project from oblivion? The estimated cost of $1.5 million is a fraction of the advertising budget for a banal studio comedy, so  it seems inane to steer away from preserving an important asset with an international fan base. The rewards of restoring, preserving, and ultimately distributing a special title lie in the Blu-ray releases reviewed below.

MajorDundee_BRSony’s Major Dundee was released on a single-disc DVD by Sony in 2006, and Twilight Time’s 2-disc set features HD transfers of the restored and theatrical cuts, plus isolated scores. That’s an indie label licensing an HD transfer from a studio with foresight, and adding their own extras and proving the viability of a title for a 3000 copy run.

BigGundown_BRThe Big Gundown is another Sony title which is available in its original longer Italian version and a newly expanded U.S. version, and Sony’s new HD transfers enabled Grindhouse Releasing to craft a deluxe 4-disc set, making Sergio Sollima’s great western available to anyone.

And then there’s MGM’s Khartoum (1966), which Twilight Time also released on Blu this year, sporting a gorgeous transfer from a beautiful source print. MGM has the wherewithal to create lovely transfers which impart a sense of the grandeur associated with widescreen super-productions, making the state of The Alamo a real puzzle, because Khartoum is no masterpiece. (A review of Twilight Time’s lovely BR is also forthcoming.)

The Alamo may represent the depth of film restoration that lies outside of MGM’s asset management budget, or it’s a film that’s fallen victim to a hard cut-off that rightly or wrongly applies to all back catalogue items. If that’s the case, I get it, but there’s one sticky point that makes MGM’s apparent unwillingness to begin the necessary restoration of Wayne’s career milestone as actor, producer, and director sad: James Bond.

The cyclical reissue of the ongoing James Bond franchise on home video and the profits reaped from new installments would probably cover the $1.5 million needed to save The Alamo. MGM doesn’t need donations, discounts, or aide. They have Bond. James Bond, who can rescue The Alamo. It’s a no-brainer, really.

RunManRunIn addition to Major Dundee and The Big Gundown, I’ve added a review of Run, Man, Run, Sergio Sollima’s sequel to Gundown, which was released on DVD some time ago by Blue Underground. The label just announced their special edition of Sergio Corbucci’s Companeros (“La-la La-la La-la-la”) which will feature the English and the longer Italian cuts, and an audio commentary by C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke, both of whom recorded a fact-filled track for Gundown.

I reviewed Companeros back in 2004 when it was packed in Anchor Bay’s Spaghetti Western Collection, so it’ll be a treat to see it in HD when it’s released October 28.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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