by HELEN GEIB
Today’s DVD pick warrants a hearty “at last.” While it has its partisans, Wagon Master is one of director John Ford’s least known Westerns. Its obscurity is due in large measure to its relative unavailability, making this first-time-on-DVD release long overdue. Wagon Master assembles a collection of social outcasts: Mormons in a westward-bound wagon train; the horse trader who agrees to act as wagon master and guide with his partner; the itinerant players in a medicine show they pick up in the desert; a Navajo band; and a vicious outlaw family.
Two of Ford’s favored stock company, Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr, lead the ensemble as the horse traders, with Joanne Dru as the beauty in the medicine show who grows into the role of the wagon master’s love interest, Ward Bond as a Mormon elder and convert given to verbal backsliding, and Charles Kemper as the outlaw patriarch.
Also released on DVD today by Warner Home Video is an expanded and re-edited version of the 1971 documentary Directed By John Ford. Made by director and film historian Peter Bogdanovich, Directed By is based on Bogdanovich’s extensive interviews with Ford and some of the great stars who worked with him, including John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Maureen O’Hara. The documentary features narration by Orson Welles and incorporates clips from many of Ford’s films.
Frankly I’m not entirely sure whether there are any special features on the Wagon Master disc. The Warner Home Video site gives no features information at all, which certainly suggests there aren’t any. However, dvdplanet.com (which I have usually found a reliable source) lists an “audio commentary by Harry Carey Jr and Peter Bogdanovich with John Ford.” I’m also not entirely sure what that might be- perhaps excerpts from Bogdanovich’s old interview material?- but it sounds intriguing.
Other new releases this week: Easy Virtue, X-Men Origins: Wolverine