I am not one to go for Westerns, unless you count the obscure Television series, Alias Smith and Jones, it was never part of my cinematic upbringing. And as such, I do not know what makes a western so western-ey, nor do I know what the mark of a good western versus a not so good western is. This brings me to the newest Warner Archive that came in the mail The Law and Jake Wade. Here is a movie that offers a relatively straightforward plotline and interesting enough settings that it should be a decent film. As I sit down to watch it, I do not really have any expectations. The names listed on the cover do nothing to ring a bell or give me any sort of impression on what to expect. Our film stars Robert Taylor (as Jake Wade) and Richard Widmark (as Clint Hollister) both were no strangers to westerns and it is obvious once the film starts that they are experienced actors within the genre.
Our story starts with a jailbreak. An unknown figure breaks Clint Hollister out of a local jail cell by holding up the sheriff. Clint takes no time to get some shots off with no concern whether or not the townspeople live or die. We learn that this figure is Jake Wade, and this is Jake’s attempt to settle a debt that he had with Clint. The two men could not be more different. It is clear they shared a sordid past although it’s obvious that Jake has turned away from criminal activity. Clint makes it clear that their business is far from finished and as Jake makes his way back home he tries to convince his fiancee to leave town. That very same night, Clint shows up to take Jake and his fiancee hostage to find the loot and make reparations for what Jake did to Clint.
I actually enjoyed the story. I found myself hating, no, absolutely detesting, Clint and how consistently bad and better than Jake he was. At one point I yelled at the Television, “Clint you b@$!&*#, just let her go!!” (for some reason it didn’t help). In fact, this was an incredible driving force behind the whole film, Widmark manages to carry most of the film with his smug smirk and overall style rather well. They say a villain is only as good as the hero he is fighting against and to that I’ll say Taylor’s ability to seem like the epitome of good compliments his opposing force rather well. The actress playing the fiancee (Patricia Owens) came off flat for me and did little to add to my buy-in to the story. Now I do realize that traditionally women do not play huge role in films like these and are more there for set pieces and plot devices than anything, however, I still believe her role could have carried more weight.
The Film 2/5
I discovered an entirely new sensation when watching this film. During several scenes where panning was fast I felt a motion sickness like sensation. I actually asked one of our fellow writers if he knew what could be going on here and we came to the conclusion that this is in large part due to the cinemascope camera used with this film. Cinemascope cameras often experienced issues with distortion around this time in film, and as we see in this film the result is terrible. The biggest problem I have with this is that I couldn’t un-see/notice it once I had noticed the distortion on the edges. This is most obvious in scenes where the landscape is very straight (being the west, it happens a lot) or there is a scene where there is wallpaper that is essentially just parallel lines and on the edge of the screen the lines are not parallel to the rest. I have to think that it is even more noticeable because the picture, otherwise, is very clear. The landscape, when it is not moving, is very beautiful and is the perfect setting for our story. It is an absolute shame that the source material is so tragically flawed.
Picture Quality 2/5
The score for The Law and Jake Wade is rather straightforward and by all mean fitting for the genre. It does well to add to the films easily digested thematics and does nothing to distract away from its humble plotline. The score by all means doesn’t seem to have an owner, instead it is credited as stock music and looks like the least thought of element of the film. That being said the film is mixed well enough for home viewing and unlike the picture problems I had, I did not have any issues hearing the dialogue.
Audio Quality 2.5/5
I’m actually a fan of the artwork for The Law and Jake Wade. I find that it feels rather reminiscent of the classic Western posters we all remember. In fact, the artwork presented on the case, is just a variation of one of the original posters made to fit the amaray case. I continue to appreciate the way Warner Archives has been packaging these releases, and the case feels rather sturdy and although this may seem like a small feat, I remember the days where you would find older films on Blu-ray/DVD and the case/artwork would just be plain awful. On the inside the disc itself also features some of the artwork from the outside of the case and is a pleasant reminder of why we buy physical media.
The Packaging 5/5
I have learned not to expect any new or extra features to be included in the Warner Archive releases, however, it is always nice when they manage to bring something extra for us to view. In this case, we do get to see the original theatrical trailer for the film in all its glory. However minimal I applaud the inclusion of anything for the Warner Archives.
Special Features 1/5
The Law and Jake Wade surprised me. I did not know what to expect going in and was surprised how much I enjoyed Clint Hollister as a character, I found him to be memorable and wonderfully bad (as in evil). The biggest let down is just how unwatchable huge segments became for me. This problem may or may not be something that’s incredibly noticeable for you or even bother you nearly as much as it did me. However, it was hard to un-notice once I had experienced it and had to stop watching it and walk away for a bit before finishing the film, which is obviously not ideal. With the picture problems put aside, the film will stick with me for a while and its characters within were remarkable. This marks two films that I have mostly enjoyed in the western genre (the other being Hannie Caulder) and I’m thinking maybe it’s time to dive deeper into it. You can purchase this edition HERE.
Overall 2/5-Serious picture issues make it hard to recommend