• Comes A Horseman

    Released By: Twilight Time
    Released On: January 17, 2017.
    Director: Alan J. Pakula
    Cast: Jane Fonda, James Caan, Jason Robards, George Grizzard, Richard Farnsworth, Jim Davis, Mark Harmon
    Year: 1978
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    A Western of a different kind, Comes A Horseman tells the story of an extended family, rich in land, but lacking in just about every other area, attempting to make their way through life in wartime 1940's. Jason Robards plays J.W. Ewing, a wealthy landowner who holds claim over massive plots of land in a wide-open, country basin that also provides ample space and food for livestock. With the death of his son in the war, J.W. feels the push of mortality and attempts to reconcile these feelings by acquiring all of the land in the area, settling down, and maybe even having another child.

    His feelings may be common enough, but his approach is questionable; J.W. chooses his niece Ella (Jane Fonda) as his potential wife-to-be, despite the fact that she's his niece, and that the two have a fairly unfriendly past. Ella is, in fact, the title holder for all of the land that J.W. doesn't own, and aims to hold onto that land against all odds, including a bank manager that is itching to recall her sizable loan if she can't turn over a profit. Fate intervenes when Ella sells off a small parcel of land to two cowboys to make ends meet; and Ewing responds by attempting to have the two men killed. While his buddy is shot to death, Frank "Buck" Athearn manages to get the jump on his assailant after being wounded, and is brought to Ella's farm to recover.

    With the help of Ella and her pardner, Dodger (Richard Farnsworth), Buck gets healthy again, and, with his previous plot of land a reminder of his dead friend, starts to help out around the ranch. Ella is withdrawn at first, clearly carrying some trust issues, but the help is slowly welcomed as Buck proves that he can out-ride and out-rustle both Ella and Dodger, and perhaps even result in the ranch making some money. J.W. is obviously not impressed by this recent development, but his attempts to first pay off Buck and then muscle him out fail miserably. The situation is further escalated when J.W. tries to make use of Buck's land to move his cattle, but that's nothing compared to the threat of J.W's business partner, Neil Atkinson, and his desire to dynamite the beautiful landscape to drill for oil.

    I'm a sucker for decent performances and a Western setting, and Comes A Horseman delivers on both in spades. Jane Fonda is, of course, excellent here as Ella, playing the hardened woman admirably while allowing the occasional glimpse of humor to shine through; and Robards is as superb as one would expect. The surprise here is James Caan, who punches out above his weight class as Buck; shedding the majority of the Caan-isms that one would normally associate with the man, and creating a compelling character image that you can't help but cheer for. Honorable mention goes to the supporting cast...especially Farnsworth, whose role may even jerk a few tears from your eyes.

    A slow build with occasional release, Comes A Horseman would not be as effective without the breathtaking cinematography of Gordon Willis; indeed, when there is nothing really happening onscreen, there's always the landscape to take in. Pakula keeps it moving and gets what's necessary out of everyone involved, and brings the slow boil to a frenzied conclusion that does not disappoint.


    From the Twilight Time website, a note about the transfer: "While Twilight Time believes Comes a Horseman to be a fine, and generally overlooked hidden treasure from the 1970's, and worthy of a second look by Blu-ray aficionados, we recognize it has not survived in the greatest of shape. We hope that those of you who care enough to buy a copy will forgive the unusually high (for a TT release) level of “speckling” (minus density) and general debris that mar the work of master cinematographer, Gordon Willis, in this hi-def presentation. We have rejected many other titles and transfers for similar reasons, but after some consideration decided this film was too important to let go. In light of this fact, we are offering it at a reduced price ($22.95 SRP) to encourage those on the fence about it. TT strives always to strike a balance between a duty to preserve the legacy of film history, as well as presenting the very best version of a film in hi-def as possible under the circumstances."

    This disclaimer is one of the reasons that I love Twilight Time. Comes a Horseman looks good for the most part, and has moments of great detail, as well as showcasing...again, for the most part....the beautiful scenery that abounds in the film. That being said, the 2.35:1 AVC-encoded transfer does indeed present a good amount of speckling, though the damage and debris may be slightly overstated in TT's disclaimer; though it is there and is noticeable when it shows up, it's certainly not a huge detriment to the film. Colours in this one are fairly dynamic as well, and though some portions of the film are less crisp than others, this is still a fine presentation of Gordon Willis' cinematography.

    Audio is handled courtesy of an English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track, with English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The track is adequate, I feel, with a good balance of coherent dialogue and score, though some sound effects such as gunshots come across as over-abrasive when the volume is set to fully appreciate the rest of the soundstage. Overall, though not really notable, it's a decent track with no noticeable issues.

    Twilight Time has also provided their usual Isolated Score Track as a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, and if you really want to hear how punchy the score is, switch on over.

    A Trailer for the film, the Twilight Time Interactive Catalogue, and the expected fine essay styles of Julie Kirgo (in insert booklet form) are also included.

    The Final Word:

    A fine film with some decent performances and beautiful cinematography. The quality is not quite up to the usual Twilight Time standards, but the reduced MSRP and the fact that it still looks great make it a more compelling buy.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      I'd never actually heard of this one, Mark, but your review definitely makes me want to check it out.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Thanks, Chris. I wasn't familiar with it, either. Also, I fixed like 12 typos after it went live.
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      I don't forgive you for not pointing out that I'd written "running tune" instead of "running time" in my last review!
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -