At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • May 15th, 2017 •

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DVD review by Roy Frumkes

I don’t plan to go all the way back in my notebooks to 1993 to confirm this, but James Arness’s delivery of the simple line “I got him” late in the film had to be one of the two or three high moments of that year. Beautifully conceived and montaged in the editing room, Arness delivers the line in an eerily thought-out lighting design as if he were some strange arboreal creature frozen in the dark, fixated on his target, the camera peering down at him. A reverberation of that moment is certainly felt in the ending of the Liam Neeson thriller TAKEN.

After the GUNSMOKE series ended, Arness launched a few more episodics (HOW THE WEST WAS WON and McCLAIN’S LAW), before initiating this series of adventures undertaken by Dodge City’s retired lawman. At first he had his old compadres along for the ride – Amanda Blake as Kitty, etc. But one by one they dropped by the wayside until the only character left from the old days was Matt Dillon himself.

At 70, Arness looks older than his years, justifiably weathered from all those decades in the prairie sun. In this installment he’s on the run with a bogus ‘Dead or Alive’ warrant on his hide, and along the way he comes across parson John Parsley (James Brolin) and Uncle Jane Merkel (Ali MacGraw), former prostitute turned watering hole proprietor. Bands of non-aggressive Native Americans pass them quietly like tumbleweed rolling by in the wind, a strange touch. And things build to a familiar but rather emotional shoot-out in the third act.

Arness always had good taste in teleplays, and time hasn’t diminished his ability to know good material. His dialogue is solid, moral, and scarce. He’s a force of nature even into his senior years. As director Jerry Jameson, formerly a TV editor, completely understands, the approach to Arness’s performance, and by extension the entire film, calls for a more laconic pace than one normally leans toward in theatrical films or made-for-TV fare.

This being a made-for-TV film from the early ‘90s, the image cries out in pain. But in fairness, the pressing is far more livable than the VHS, which I’m told was a desecration. This print you can get used to, and re-watch with friends

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