Just when you thought you'd seen every John Wayne western, an unfamiliar title pops up on home video. "Duke" began working in the genre in the early 1930s, and was still pounding the Plain in old age. Though he made countless films, he is best remembered wearing that ten-gallon hat. He played the same basic character in most of his Westerns, and the success of each depended on the script, director and supporting cast with which he was given to work. Just in time for Christmas, 20th Century Fox is issuing on Blu-ray two of Wayne's later Westerns, neither representative of his best work.
Released in 1969, after the successful "True Grit," "The Undefeated" paired the actor with a strange bedfellow indeed, Rock Hudson. The film is set in the Southwest, just following the Civil War. A former Yankee colonel, Wayne is conveying a herd of horses intended for the Emperor Maximilian. En route, he encounters Confederate officer Rock Hudson and a band of Southern exiles, who are following the same trail to Mexico. The two strike an uneasy friendship. When menaced by robbers and revolutionaries loyal to Juarez, they are forced to band together.
The film oozes with machismo, and even Rock passes. There is enough gun- and fist-fighting to raise the testosterone levels of those who enjoy watching characters bloody one another. There are even two football stars of the period in smaller roles. Though the film has a few tense moments, it is essentially weak: Wayne goes through all the standard motions, but Hudson is out of his element, the supporting cast is second rate, and the script and direction are uninspired.
From a technical standpoint, the Blu-ray is fine. The beautiful widescreen, color photography comes through in excellent picture quality. There are no extras other than English and Spanish language trailers.
"The Undefeated" Blu-ray may be worth a once-through for the attractive photography and the offbeat Wayne/Hudson pairing.