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The Covered Wagon Blu-ray Review

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“The Covered Wagon” is an impressive early silent western.

In this 1923 silent western, the story revolves around a group of Pioneers looking to travel from Westport (Kansas City) to Oregon via a covered wagon caravan. Leading them on this trek is the Liberty Boys led by Will Banion. As one might expect, the arduous journey is fraught with tensions, setbacks, sorrows, food issues, weather, Indian encounters, and the discovery that California has gold. The other key storyline here is a love story between Molly (the daughter a traveling family) and Will that comes with its own set of complications including someone else that has eyes for Molly (Sam).

Script wise, “The Covered Wagon” is nothing special. The title card dialogue is dopey, the love story is pure sap, the lengthy (and frankly goofy) Fort scene makes the movie stop to a crawl, and yet, none of this affects this impressive and historically important piece of cinema. For those that may not know, director James Cruze’s “The Covered Wagon” is essentially the first epic western in cinema. It broke new ground as a cinematic spectacle (check out the crossing the water and battle sequences), the production values are grand, the film looks and feels authentic, there are no household names starring in this, and the cinematography by Karl Brown is stunning. Really, the film looks grand even by today’s standards given that much of this film would no doubt be CGI nowadays.

Cast wise, the performances are admirable, but there are standouts here. First, it was really nice to see Native Americans cast here instead of actors wearing offensive makeup. This was uncommon at the time and for decades to follow. Secondly, character actor Ernest Torrance easily steals the film as the eccentric Bill (a friend of Will’s). Every time he was on screen the movie was better for it due to his lively personality.

Video/Audio:

Presentation: 1.33:1 1080p. How does it look? The hi-def transfers for B&W silent films are deeply underrated as a whole and that is certainly the case for “The Covered Wagon.” Sure, there are scratches, dirt, and print issues, but there’s no denying that there is a new level of clarity here that wasn’t there before.

Audio Track: 2.0 Track. How does it sound? The organ score by Gaylord Carter sounds fine. No more, no less.

Extras: A booklet featuring an essay by a film teacher and author Matt Hauske, a 1932 short spoof titled “The Pie-Covered Wagon” starring an all kid cast including Shirley Temple, and a lively and informative commentary by film historian Toby Roan.

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March 15, 2018 - Posted by | Blu-Ray review | , , ,

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