• Monte Walsh

    Released by: Paramount/CBS
    Released on: 11-9-2010
    Director: William A. Fraker
    Cast: Lee Marvin, Jeanne Moreau, Jack Palance, Mitch Ryan, Jim Davis
    Year: 1970
    The Movie:

    Directed by William A. Fraker in 1970, just as the western cycle was starting to lose the boost that it’d been given by the Spaghetti Westerns being pumped out of Europe, Monte Walsh has a lot in common with the same themes that Sam Peckinpah was exploring around the same time with films like The Wild Bunch and Junior Bonner, albeit without the ultra violence of that first mention.

    Written by Lukas Heller and David Z. Goodman based on the novel by Jack Schaeffer, the film stars Lee Marvin as the titular Monte Walsh, an aging cowboy who hangs out with his partner, Chet, played by Jack Palance. The pair wind up taking a job at a ranch, one of the last big ranches around where guys like them can find work. Big business is moving in from the eastern side of the country and expanding into the west and so opportunities for old cowboys like Monte and Chet are quickly drying up. The day of the cowboy is coming to a close, and both Monte and Chet are quickly figuring that out though Chet’s willing to admit it, Monte is not.

    As they go about their daily routine, work which they are able to take some pride in at least, and they both manage to take some comfort in the arms of a widowed woman working as a prostitute named Martine (Jeanne Moreau). Eventually, Monte, Chet and a few of their fellow ranch hands need to decide how to bring it all to a close, be it settling down, or going out in one final showdown.

    Monte Walsh starts off almost like a comedy, with some wise cracking between the two male leads quickly setting the stage for the camaraderie to follow and keeping things fairly light. Once the characters are established, however, things start to get more melancholy and tragic, though never to the point where the film is bogged down with melodrama or saccharine nostalgia. Lee Marvin makes for the perfect star in this film, his naturally weathered face very much looking the part of an aging cowboy and his gruff persona fleshing out his character well. You really feel for Monte as he goes through what is essentially his last ditch effort to hold onto what he’s valued all his life, and those who know Marvin only as the tough guy he was so good at playing will enjoy seeing a slightly more sensitive, though entirely macho, side of him here. Palance is every bit his equal in the film, playing Chet with a bit more of an accepting nature than the one that Marvin affords Monte, and he, too, very much looks right at home here.

    The film doesn’t move at the fastest of speeds but it does build nicely, spending enough time on character development that who these men are actually matters to the storyline, in fact in many ways it is the storyline. Long sweeping shots of the terrain help set the stage while the film offers up enough glimpses into the sense of brotherhood these men have felt while working on the ranch to give us a good feeling for things as they all start to unravel. Nicely shot, calmly but deliberately paced and edited and set to a solid score by John Barry (with a musical but by Mama Cass), Monte Walsh isn’t generally up at the top of the great western movie list but it’s certainly one well worth seeing and reevaluating as well.
    Monte Walsh hits DVD in its original 2.35.1 aspect ratio in a decent looking print that, if not fully restored, is in pretty good shape. The transfer is interlaced but there aren’t any problems with heavy print damage, only some minor specks here and there. Grain is present but not in a detrimental way and if colors look just a little bit hot in some spots, so be it. Blacks aren’t reference quality but they’re deep enough to work while skin tones generally look realistic.

    The only audio option on this disc is a Dolby Digital Mono track. It’s a bit flat in spots but otherwise problem free. A little minor hiss does creep into the mix but you won’t likely notice it too much unless you’re specifically looking for it. The theme song from Mama Cass sounds good and the levels are well balanced.

    The disc includes the film’s original trailer and a menu that offers chapter selection.
    The Final Word:
    An interesting and poignant look at the later days of the Wild West, Monte Walsh gets a respectable DVD debut in North America thanks to Paramount’s widescreen release. It could have used more extras and the transfer won’t blow you away, but it looks decent enough.