Western lovers rejoice, those rootin’ tootin’ folks at Signal One Entertainment have got not one but two delights for you. Making their UK Blu-ray debuts, Villa Rides and The Fighting Kentuckian are a pair of gunslinging hidden gems ripe for rediscovery.
In Villa Rides, Yul Brynner and Robert Mitchum co-star with Charles Bronson in a fascinating historical epic set during the 1912 Mexican Revolution. The film’s background is interesting; a late 60s studio picture attempting to follow the success of the decade’s now-iconic spaghetti westerns was always going to be a curious experiment. Director Buzz Kulik – largely a television name – certainly gives the film a rather bland quality, but on the whole Villa Rides is an exciting and bombastic Western. While it might not capitalize on its potential (Sam Peckinpah wrote the original screenplay and was set to helm before falling out with Brynner), there’s still a lot to like.
Next up, John Wayne puts in a stellar performance in The Fighting Kentuckian – but the main pull is the surprising inclusion of Oliver Hardy (of Laurel & Hardy fame), who lends great comic relief and a genuinely entertaining twist to the usual western fare in only one of five films he worked in without Stan Laurel. The film is a great deal of light-hearted fun, and certainly an underrated entry in the John Wayne legacy. While it may be far from Rio Bravo or The Searchers, this is a classic Golden Age western that reminds us that they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.
Both films look and sound great on Blu-ray, and while the discs are barebones with regard to bonus features, it’s a delight to be able to own the films in high def.
With a Humphrey Bogart cult classic and some legendary Jerry Lewis comedies coming up on Blu-ray, 2023 looks like a stellar year for Signal One Entertainment. Bring it on!