DVDs: Two Guys Named John

One was a gregarious actor who became a cultural icon. The other was an erudite, poetic soul hiding in a sadistic, foul-tempered drunk ... and arguably America's greatest director. Their love/hate relationship ran through the eight essential movies they made together, and their evolutionary cinematic odyssey is chronicled in a fascinating full-length documentary and three arresting featurettes included in the boxed, 10-disc John Wayne - John Ford Film Collection (Warner; Movies ••••, Picture/Sound ••••, Extras ••••½).

Stagecoach (1939) and The Searchers (1956) have each been given the two-disc deluxe treatment - and for these DVDs alone, the set is a must. Stagecoach is the roughest-looking of the bunch, with heavy grain and slight surface wear carried over from its source print. Nevertheless, this is the best I've ever seen it, with well-defined images and excellent contrast. The sound has been upgraded, too, removing much hiss and popping.

The Searchers was shot in VistaVision, a process that allows for variable screen shapes. Past video releases tended to be 2:1, but the masterful framing here in a 1.85:1 transfer suggests that this was Ford's preference. It looks stunning, with pinprick-sharp visuals and rich Technicolor tones. The mono soundtracks on both The Searchers and Stagecoach are remarkably crisp, resonant, and full-bodied.

The remaining quartet of titles, all new to DVD, boast crystal-clear transfers from their best film elements. The black-and-white movies offer stark experimental imagery: The Long Voyage Home (1940) is awash in shadowy, foggy tones, and Fort Apache (1948) uses infrared stock for Monument Valley's eeriest depiction. 3 Godfathers (1948) explodes in ebullient Technicolor, while the vibrant tones of Wings of Eagles (1957) rescue this underrated effort from decades of faded prints. Dynamic (and frequently bombastic) mono tracks complement the awesome compositions on all four DVDs.

Other extras in this rewarding set include two insightful commentaries (one by Peter Bogdanovich, the other by Ford biographer Scott Eyman), the director's home movies, and six featurettes.

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