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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Straight Shooting (1917) & Hell Bent (1918)
Two Films by John Ford


Starring: Harry Carey, Duke R. Lee, George Berrell, Molly Malone and Neva Gerber
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £27.99


Certificate: U
Release Date: 19 April 2021

Eureka Entertainment release Straight Shooting (1917) & Hell Bent (1918): Two Films by John Ford, which offers two early films from the greatest Western director of all time. Straight Shooting was the first feature directed by Ford, it revived the career of Harry Carey who gives a rough and tumble performance here as a hired gun who turns on his employers to defend an innocent farmer and his family. In Hell Bent, ‘Cheyenne Harry’ (Harry Carey playing the same character from Straight Shooting) flees the law after a poker game shootout, and arrives in the town of Rawhide, where he becomes friendly with local cowboy Cimarron Bill (Duke Lee) and dance hall girl Bess Thurston (Neva Gerber). When gang leader Beau Ross (Joseph Harris) kidnaps Bess, Harry goes to desperate lengths travelling across the deadly desert in order to free Bess from the hard-bitten Ross...

Film scholars, historians and fans of Westerns are in for a treat as Eureka's The Masters of Cinema Series delivers two early John Ford movies on Blu-ray from 4K restorations. The collection has a Limited-Edition O-Card Slipcase (First Print Run of 2000 copies) and reversible sleeve artwork.

There's little point in discussing the plot to the movies as both are fairly run-of-the-mill Western tales. Over the following years Ford and others would build on the same narrative to ensure that the genre was beloved by movie fans.

Both movies are presented in 1080p on Blu-ray from 4K restorations undertaken by Universal Pictures, available for the first time on home video in the UK. Straight Shooting includes a score by Michael Gatt. Hell Bent's score is by Zachary Marsh. However, there's a segment on Hell Bent where the picture suffers for a few minutes.

Extras on Straight Shooting include an audio commentary by film historian Joseph McBride, author of Searching for John Ford: A Life. A new interview with film critic and author Kim Newman which, amongst other things focuses on Harry Carey (22 min, 02 sec); Bull Scores a Touchdown video essay by Tag Gallagher (10 min, 42 sec which explores the background to Ford and Carey's relationship as well as looking at other repeat actors. Then he wanders off into his own little world. I'm really not convinced in his foreground objects argument, which he seems to believe were consciously staged to give the movie a 3D appearance. Surely it's just set dressing to make the scene look real rather than staged and free from clutter. A script editor should have been brought in, or someone to help form Gallagher's ramblings into a more coherent pattern. His ideas and thoughts are sometimes difficult to fathom); and Hitchin’ Posts (3 min, 11 sec - short fragment of Ford's 1920 movie and preserved by the Library of Congress).

Extras on Hell Bent include an audio commentary by McBride; Archival audio interview from 1970 with John Ford by Joseph McBride (44 min, 32 sec - very brave decision by McBride to allow this as it's full of the mistakes of a young interviewer getting to meet their hero - I know, I've had a few similar instances in my early days of interviewing. Ford is gruff, but polite enough. He tries hard to wrap things up a couple of times and even goes as far as to point out to McBride that his answers aren't going to make for very interesting print); and A Horse or a Mary? video essay by Gallagher (9 min, 14 sec which looks at Ford's early years and the character actors… Again, it's a very strange narration with odd phrasing making it hard to follow.

The Blu-ray set comes with a collector’s booklet featuring writing by Richard Combs, Phil Hoad, and Tag Gallagher. Eureka do another impressive job of restoring important cinema for future generations to enjoy.


Darren Rea

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