Duel at Diablo
Ralph Nelson's Duel At Diablo (1966) was once out on laserdisc as part of a double feature with John Sturges's Hour Of The Gun, which was an awkward combination -- one movie was an action-filled topical adventure with lots of familiar faces cast against type, while the other was a dour, deeply psychological, character-oriented story that put an awkward spin on a familiar story; James Garner was the reason for the pairing, as he was the star of both. Nelson's movie stands much better on its own, as one of the best movies in its genre to come out of Hollywood in the 1960's. What's more, this DVD is a true jewel, just for restoring the film to its proper luster -- letterboxed to 1.66-to-1, in a deep and detailed transfer, it takes flight from the opening credits, seen over a stunning desert panorama. The letterboxing, though mild, enhances the action scenes by framing them the way that the director and cinematographer intended them to be seen, and that goes double for any shots involving mobile camera work, of which there are plenty here; even the night shots manage to be realistically dark yet contain usable picture information; and one key montage sequence, covering a mad dash to relative safety in the oncoming dawn, is transferred beautifully, capturing the rising level of light with each series of cuts in all of its subtlety. And Charles F. Wheeler's photography (mostly done on location in Utah) isn't the only element enhanced here -- Neal Hefti's score, though a little too modernistic for its time, is also presented cleanly, on a good, loud audio track. The movie itself was years ahead of its time, in both its racial sensibilities and its violence, which is comparable to that of the spaghetti westerns of the period, and it ought to be regarded as one of the jewels of the United Artists western library, right alongside the best parts of the Clint Eastwood collection. Garner was a better actor at this point in his career than Eastwood was; with Sidney Poitier in one of the flashiest, boldest roles of his career -- an ex-buffalo soldier turned horse wrangler and gambler -- also aboard, and Bibi Andersson, Dennis Weaver, Bill Travers, and John Hoyt doing superb work as well, this disc is a no-brainer of a purchase especially as part of MGM's mid-priced "Western Legends" line; this reviewer would have happily paid money to see it in a theater in 1966, but it was too adult for him at the time. The movie comes with only one extra, the original trailer, which condenses some of the more violent action into two minutes. There's also a Spanish language track available, and English captions and French and Spanish subtitles, all accessible through a simple two-layer menu that opens automatically on start-up.