BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
"RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY: WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION"
Blu-ray, 1962, unrated, violence, implied sensuality (probably a PG-13 today); streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes
Best extra: The feature "A Justified Life: Sam Peckinpah and the High Country," an interview with the director's sister, Fern Lea Peter
HONOR AND LOYALTY. Those twin themes defined Sam Peckinpah's best movies: "The Wild Bunch," "Straw Dogs" and "Ride the High Country," his elegiac second feature and the one that set the template for all the others.
It was also his most autobiographical movie. A slight young man, Peckinpah grew up on a ranch in the mountains near Fresno, Calif., and was determined to prove himself, an experience that shaped him forever, says his sister, Fern Lea Peter, in the feature "A Justified Life: Sam Peckinpah and the High Country." But the way of life he cherished wouldn't be around much longer.
That sense of loss was another thread that ran through his movies, and it was most apparent in "Ride the High Country." Joel McCrea ("Foreign Correspondent") plays Steve Judd, an aging lawman who takes a job transporting gold from the Sierra Nevadas to a bank. He hires his former cohort, Gil Westrum (Western icon Randolph Scott, "7 Men from Now"), but Westrum and his quick-tempered assistant have other plans -- to steal the gold.
Along the way, they come across Elsa Knudsen (TV veteran Mariette Hartley), a teenager who lives on the trail with her repressive father. She sees a way out and joins them hoping to find Billy Hammond (James Drury, TV's "The Virginian"), the miner who'd proposed to her. His family, though, is bad news (as it turns out, so is Billy), and when Judd and Westrum intervene, a showdown is inevitable. The final shot could have been Peckinpah's epitaph.
Those familiar with Peckinpah will spot Warren Oates, L.Q. Jones and R.G. Armstrong among the credits and, behind the camera, the great Lucien Ballard. "Ride the High Country" was their first partnership, and thanks to a stellar remastering as part of Warner Bros.' Archive Collection, it looks fantastic. The sweeping vistas in and around Mammoth Lakes, Calif., are rivaled by the sharp separation and attention to detail (check out Judd's frayed shirt). Warner scored recently with "The Yakuza" and "Wait Until Dark." Add this one to the list.
Besides the feature, the only extras are a commentary and trailer, all picked up from the earlier DVD. The commentary convenes film historian Nick Redman and authors Paul Seydor, Garnet Simmons and David Weddle, all of whom have written extensively about Peckinpah and now "Ride the High Country" backward and forward. It's a must.
Same goes for this true classic.
- Craig Shapiro