The stars must have formed a fortuitous
alignment. Somehow, a great wrong has been righted and order has been restored
to the universe. Kino Lorber, under its
KL Classics brand, has just released “Sunset in the West,” the first-ever high
definition Blu-Ray edition of a Roy Rogers Trucolor western. This may not sound
like a big deal to some people, but for the initiated—those who grew up watching
Roy on the big screen at countless Saturday matinees in the 1950s— it is monumental.
Because, until now the only Roy Rogers movies available for home viewing were
dark, faded, and badly edited transfers released first on VHS and later DVD by
Republic Studios. Republic treated Roy’s movies with criminal disrespect. The
studio let the movies fade away with in their vaults, and then sold them to TV
where they were butchered to fit time slots. By the time they got to home video
there were a mess. For Roy’s fans, it seemed a hopeless situation that would
never be corrected. But now, thanks to a first class restoration by Kino
Lorber, you can see what John McClane was talking about in “Die Hard,” when he
told Hans he was kinda partial to Roy Rogers more than John Wayne, because: “I
really like those shirts.”
Color was an essential component of the
Rogers westerns. In addition to the western-style shirts he wore, there was the
bandana around his neck, the silver studs on his holster and gun belt, the hand-tooled
boots with touches of turquoise on them, all of which combined to make Roy
practically a living work of art. Even Trigger, his golden Palomino, billed as
“The Smartest Horse in the Movies” was outfitted with handsomely a burnished
leather saddle festooned with silver doo-dads and a Mexican-style saddle
blanket. But you could hardly see any of that on home video. Part of the
problem was the Trucolor process itself. Republic invented its own cheaper red
and green two-strip color process to save money and still compete with
Technicolor. The absence of the third blue strip resulted in more pastel shades
than Technicolor with the picture emphasizing oranges and blues. The result was
a special look that was immediately identifiable, and put Republic’s, and
especially Roy Rogers, movies sort of in a class by themselves. But the big
drawback was that Trucolor film faded quickly. Kino Lorber has done a
praiseworthy restoration, remastering “Sunset in the West,” from a 4K scan, and
the movie looks just about as good as it must have when it was first released.
It’s a significant event in the history of film restoration.
“Sunset in the West” is a typical Roy Rogers
movie. Certainly not the best he ever made, but a good one.
I would vote for “Bells of San Angelo” as the best, but I suppose it’s all a
matter of opinion. When you’re talking about the King of the Cowboys what can
you say? They’re all great. In this one Roy finds himself involved in a plot
involving gun runners. The script by screenwriting veteran Gerald Geraghty starts
with a train hijacking. (That’s another plus right there. Roy Rogers and
trains! There are several steam locomotives in the story, although it’s likely
there was only one that was used and made over to look different each time.)
The bad guys drive the trains to isolated areas, dump out the freight, and
replace it with guns to be smuggled across the border to a foreign power. The
trains are found later wrecked somewhere along the track. Roy finds out about
it when the train he was expecting to pick up the cattle he had driven to
Bordertown races right on by without even stopping. Not a man to let a thing like
that go by, Roy jumps on Trigger and races after the steaming locomotive. He
overtakes the train, jumps aboard and is immediately punched out by the
engineer and knocked off the speeding locomotive.
And that’s just the first reel of this
action-packed movie. Directed at a frenetic pace by the legendary William Witney
(one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite directors), “Sunset in the West” packs a
slew of galloping horse chases (Roy takes down two baddies riding double in one
scene), numerous fist fights (including a barroom brawl that must have used
half of Republics fabled team of stunt men), several gun fights, four or five
quick musical numbers, and a finale that takes place along the crashing waves
of a deserted beach. And all packed into a dizzying 67 minutes.
The cast includes Penny Edwards, playing the
niece of Sheriff Tad Osborne (Will Wright), an old timer who’s about to chuck
his 30-year career because he can’t solve the mystery of the highjacked trains.
The plot gets moving when Roy, is deputized and helps find out who’s behind it all.
Also on hand for comedy relief is Gordon Jones as “Splinters” a hiccupping
barber/deputy sheriff. Pierre Watkin appears as Gordon McKnight, a leading
citizen of Bordertown who seems kind of shady, and Estelita Rodrigues, who
plays Carmelita a Mexican gal singer who doubles as a spy for Deputy Splinters.
Foy Willing and the Sons of the Purple Sage are on hand to provide some of the
Kino Lorber presents the movie in a
1920X1080p transfer and in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, slightly wider
than the standard 1.33:1. Bonus features
include audio commentary by Western film historian Toby Roan, who provides
interesting info on the cast, the locations, and, just about anything else
you’d want to know about the movie. There are also previews of other westerns
in the KL catalog. There’s no question. This is one Blu-Ray you have to own. Let’s
hope there are more restorations of these classic films to come. Until then, Happy
Trails, partner, and may the Good Lord take a liking to you.