Comes a Horseman [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (16th September 2019).
The Film

"Comes a Horseman" (1978)

Ella Connors (played by Jane Fonda) is a woman living alone on a family owned cattle ranch in the American west in the mid 1940s. With the land being part of her family's for two generations, she is reluctant to give it up even with little help around. She does have a helping hand with the family friend Dodger (played by Richard Farnsworth), but things are grim with the presence of local landowner JW Ewing (played by Jason Robards) who has for many years been trying to buy the land from Ella, hoping for profits in oil. He and his goons have used strong force to try to scare off land owners in the neighboring areas, but when one of his men shoots local cowboy Frank (played by James Caan) and kills his partner Billy (played by Mark Harmon), the cowboys take a side to fight off the men from their land.

Unlike many westerns taking place in the late 1900s, "Comes a Horseman" takes place in the 1940s with cars and other forms of at the time modern technology can be seen. At the heart of it is a story of people and their land and the incoming storm from the people who want to take it away from them. Having owned property has been and still is part of the American dream and whether it is the government or a corporation coming to buy out the land, there is a certain sense of pride of having that land and being able to take care of it. And this is not only an American way but something that can be seen in many cultures around the world. It's not about money or luxury, nor is it plain laziness, but pride and history, no matter where the place may be. There are countless stories of real estate moguls trying to expand and the landowners not wanting to budge. From the railroads in "Once Upon a Time in the West" to corporate expansion in Pixar's "Up", the idea is something timeless.

"Comes a Horseman" is more on the modern side of a western tale, but it is still one that takes cues from a simpler and slower time of western films. By the 1970s the western genre had become stagnant with no new ideas and modern cinema taking charge. Urban dramas, science fiction, and more modern settings became a commonplace, and by the time "Comes a Horseman" was made, it was at the time that blockbusters such as "Star Wars" and "Jaws" revolutionized the cinema landscape in moviemaking and ticket sales. The structure and the pacing of "Comes a Horseman" is much slower, establishing characters and the story fully before anything else. Dialogue and interactions are not filled with quick cuts and speedy dialogue, but some being intensely long with no cutaways with the silences in between. The number of main characters are a few and each are given full backstories and their motivations are true, going for old fashioned storytelling in a linear fashion.

Director Alan J. Pakula made quite a name for himself with a trilogy of paranoia films in the 1970s with "Klute", "The Parallax View" and "All the President's Men" which were all highly regarded by the critics and the public. "Comes a Horseman" was quite different in tone and structure and in many ways a forgotten and overlooked film in the director's filmography. It is not a bad film by any means and while it may have been underseen, it rides on too many cliches and climaxes very abruptly. The final sequence turns quite violent very quickly and the buildup wasn't a gradual case, as in any suspenseful drama the tension should rise bit by bit. In the case of "Comes a Horseman", it's closer to a sudden psychotic burst. It's one of the more weaker aspects of the film, but one part that stands tall is the performances.

Jane Fonda's father was very well known for westerns but for her this was her first in a starring role, and it's a very strong feminist role. She takes nothing from nobody, is proud to take care of herself for the many years. James Caan does a fine job as Frank who is a character that sees Ella as an equal or possibly superior cowboy in comparison to him, but that does not mean he cannot stand up for himself when the time comes. Richard Farnsworth gives a natural element to the role, and interestingly this was his first major credited role, as he was a stuntman in film since the 1930s, and his role as Dodge earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Jason Robards certainly has a face for westerns and his menacing yet strong character comes across well in the production. While the film was nominated for one Oscar, it was not given any more accolades and was quickly forgotten about. The performers as well as the director went on to further careers but one person who did not was stuntman Jim Sheperd who was killed in a stunt performed during the production. "Comes a Horseman" is an entertaining story, but not one that qualifies as a lost masterpiece by any means.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray

Video

The BFI presents the film in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The HD transfer was provided by MGM, previously also used for the US Blu-ray by Twilight Time. Unfortunately, this is a less than stellar transfer with very little work done for the remastering process. From the opening credits there is a bit of telecine wobble, plus speckles, scratches, dust, and debris seen throughout. Some scenes are fairly clean but the damage is still noticeable. On the plus side, skin tones are fairly good as is detail in the image with the long range plains and mountains in the distances to the near fielded closeups. Greens of the trees and the grass are bold and browns are especially good, but there is a bit lacking in the overall vibrancy. It's unfortunate some additional work couldn't have been put into a full restoration, but considering that the film was not much of a hit on its release and has never really had a full re-evaluation, maybe this is the best it will be for a while.

The film is uncut with a runtime of 118:36.

Audio

English LPCM 2.0 mono
The original mono track is presented uncompressed. The opening updated MGM and UA logos are in stereo but the film itself reverts to mono. The track is fairly good being well balanced with dialogue, music, and effects throughout. Dialogue at times can be a little on the muffled side due to the location recordings, but there are no major issues of hisses or pops in the track to be mentioned.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font. They are well timed and easy to read.

Extras

Audio commentary by novelist and scriptwriter Scott Harrison
In this newly recorded commentary, Harrison discusses how he is an unabashed fan of the film and expresses his views on why the underrated film should be higher on lists. He discusses the production details, gives biography information on the actors and crew, the timeframe the film was made in, historical facts about the time that the film was set in, as well as examples of some of the less than stellar reviews the film was given during its initial run.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Isolated Score
The isolated score composed by Michael Small is presented in stereo.
in Dolby Digital 2.0

"The Guardian Interview: Alan J. Pakula" 1986 interview (95:27)
In this on stage Q&A by Quentin Falk at the National Film Theatre that took place on February 25th, 1986, Pakula talks about his career in depth. He discusses moving up to the director's chair, working with various actors over the years, difficulties faced in productions, and much more. The recording is missing one segment as at one point the cassette tape had to change sides.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Jane Fonda in Conversation" 2018 interview (71:11)
Fonda gave a lengthy on stage interview on October 23rd, 2018 at the BFI Southbank. Clips of her work was shown as well as a discussion on her life and career, including working with Pakula, being a mother and actress, her work in social activism, and much more.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Image Gallery (10:10)
A series of behind the scenes stills and promotional shots and posters in an automated slideshow is here, with no music or audio accompaniment.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

"Hereford Pedigree Cattle" 1937 short (9:55)
This educational short directed by Mary Field shows cattle farming in sales in the agricultural world. The picture and sound are a little on the scratchy side.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"The Grassy Shires" 1944 short (15:31)
In this short, agricultural practices during WWII is shown with the plowing of the soil, the machines used, and the sales of cattle.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Original Theatrical Trailer (2:51)
The vintage narrated original trailer is cropped on the sides, is very grainy and with some minor damage.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Booklet
A 28 page booklet is included. First is an article on the film by writer Peter Tonguette on the production and reception of the film. Next is "Jane Fonda’s films and politics in the 1970s" by author Peter Kramer on the life and career of Fonda. There are full film credits, a short biography of Pakula, special features credits, transfer information, and stills included.

The film was previously released on Blu-ray in the United States by Twilight Time, which used the same transfer from MGM with the trailer and the isolated score as the only extras. The score was in DTS-HD Master Audio rather than the smaller Dolby Digital used on the UK BFI release. Other than that, the UK release is the clear winner with the number of extras.

Overall

"Comes a Horseman" is a throwback to a simpler filmmaking style with great performances, but is a bit on the lacking side in the grand scale. The BFI Blu-ray may have a weak image transfer from a compromised source, but has a very lengthy selection of extras included.

The Film: B- Video: C+ Audio: B+ Extras: B Overall: B-

 


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