Almost a year ago over at The Auteurs' Notebook, I wrote about the deplorable state of affairs concerning the DVD incarnation of John Ford's beautiful, unusual 1950 film Wagon Master. This picture is both an exemplary Ford film and a spookily unusual one, with a loose-limbed feel and a particular kind of sincerity that's thoroughly disarming. Its opening and closing sequences are among the most daring and unnerving in Hollywood history; with no announcing logos or credits the viewer is pulled into a world and into a story that isn't picked up on again until almost halfway through the picture; similarly, at the end, we are still in the midst of a story when the storyteller abruptly announces it's time to go. Then there are the beautiful Western songs "recorded," as the opening credits say, by the Sons of the Pioneers, that serve as both mood pieces and commentaries. Then there are the recurring landmarks of Moab and Monument Valley, which make diegetic sense as the wagon train of the film is filled with Mormons, and make odd symbolic sense as they are seen over and over again throughout the trek the film tells of.
It's above all a really indescribable film, which is why I'm pleased to note here that as of Tuesday you'll be able to experience it yourself. Without much fanfare, Warner Home Video is issuing a splendid new DVD of the film next Tuesday, September 15. The thoroughly affordable disc features a lovely commentary from Peter Bogdanovich, co-star Harry Carey, Jr. (seen above, left, with the great Ben Johnson), and Ford himself courtesy of P.B.'s voluminous audio files. But the main attraction is the film itself, buffed to a lustrous (but still grain-rich) sheen that reveals Bert Glennon's cinematography for the miracle that is was/is. Watching the disc this evening I wondered if it was not, in fact, frame-by-frame one of the most gorgeous motion pictures ever shot.
I mean, really. But check it out yourselves. You may thank me the longest day you live, as they say.