Warlock (1959)

Comments Off on Warlock (1959) 25 August 2013

warlock dvd

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Theatrical Release: April 1, 1959

DVD Release: March 1, 2013

Director: Edward Dmytryk

Not Rated

Review by James Klein

Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, DeForest Kelly, and Whit Bissell in a film by the director of The Devil Commands and The Caine Mutiny?  Yeah sign me up! With so much build up because of the talent involved, Warlock doesn’t disappoint. In fact, Warlock is much better than I had anticipated.


Like most westerns, the film starts off on a predictable storyline that we have seen in countless westerns. A small town named Warlock is being terrorized by a gang lead by the evil Abe McQuown (Tom Drake) who force the deputy of Warlock to flee town, leaving the residents to defend on their own. The town decide to hire a gunman who will be their new marshal for the time being, just until he can clean up the town. If you have seen The Magnificent Seven, High Plains Drifter or even Blazing Saddles, then this storyline should be very familiar.

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The gunman that is hired is Clay Blaisdell (Henry Fonda) a soft spoken but hard as nails gunfighter who has a reputation of being a dangerous man. Clay decides to take the job who just happens to find out that his old loyal friend Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn) who owns a casino also lives in town.

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That’s not all as the film has many layers to it. There is also another storyline taking place that involves one of McQuown’s gunfighters, Johnny Gannon (Richard Widmark). Gannon is ready to leave the gang as he is sick and tired of seeing all the bloodshed his gang is causing. The only thing stopping him is the fact that his younger brother who is part of the gang as well, needs looking after. As the two brothers start to distance themselves from one another, Gannon splits off and decides to be the deputy of Warlock. The problem he has is that Clay is still the hired marshal and soon the two men, who both mean well and want what’s best for the town, become at odds with one another.

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Warlock’s theme of what exactly is a hero and what makes a man good or bad is played out constantly throughout the film. While it isn’t heavy handed, the theme is a strong one and one that works well thanks to the fantastic direction and suburb screenplay by Robert Alan Arthur which he adapted from a novel by Oakley Hall. What I especially liked is that the villains in the film take a step back from the storyline and the movie ultimately focuses on the relationship between Clay, Gannon and Morgan. While there are some shootouts and fist fights, the film plays more like a drama which may have some action fans wanting, well…more action. If I had a complaint about the film is that the movie is just too long, clocking in at 121 minutes. If 15 minutes had been trimmed off, this could have been a masterpiece.

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What ISN’T a masterpiece is the quality of the DVD by the 20th Century Fox Cinema Archives. Warlock starts off in glorious 2:35 Cinemascope but as soon as the credits are over, the movie is suddenly full framed. While I won’t go into a rant about the difference between widescreen and full framed movies, ultimately the viewing experience is ruined due to the full frame presentation. Characters talk to each other off screen, faces are cut off, quick pan and scanning…it is just plain awful.

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Making matters worse is the fact that the picture looks terrible. The colors at times jump from being bright to washed out.  There is also a thick heavy grain covering the film, no remastering was done, making it feel like you are watching an old VHS tape. Have you ever watched a DVD or blu ray and then look at the theatrical trailer and seeing how lousy the original trailer looks? That’s what its like while watching this presentation of Warlock. With no special features even provided, this DVD is a disgrace. What is even more insulting is that 20th Century Fox’s old out of print DVD from 2005 was widescreen and looked a hell of a lot better.

If Warlock is ever playing on TCM, please check it out. It’s a great western and a film that I am really surprised isn’t more well known. Just stay away from this DVD.

Movie Rating: ★★★★☆

DVD Rating: ★☆☆☆☆



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