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A Man Called Horse - Blu-ray Review

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A Man Called Horse - Blu-ray Review

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4 stars

In 1970 the western genre received a much needed injection of honest viciousness in storytelling courtesy of director Elliot Silverstein and writer Jack De Witt.  Their adaptation of a short story by Dorothy M. Johnson was something a bit revelatory for its time period treatment of Native Americans.  While A Man Called Horse works as a western, it also serves as a time stamp for a whole generation of kids who were searching for something to escape the disappointment they were discovering in their own lives.  The film was an important one for the genre.  It was largely accurate in covering the Sioux Nation’s rituals.  Secondly, as simple as it is, A Man Called Horse doesn’t sugarcoat anything in its approach to the displaced individual.  The lasting result is a brutal and beautiful film marred only by its clunky pacing and a few lingering questions of its own (especially in casting) claims to validity.

Richard Harris stars as John Morgan, a bored English aristocrat who travels to America to hunt big game in the open frontier.  Ambushed by Yellow Hand (Manu Tupou) and treated like a horse for the tribe’s entertainment, Morgan is eventually given to Buffalo Cow Head (Judith Anderson) as her slave.  His life is difficult and brutal, but – though his observations – he begins to feel a slight tinge of respect for his captures.  He meets the English-speaking Batise (Jean Gascon) who, as a boy, was captured by the Sioux and eventually raised as one of their own, and navigates his way through the Sioux culture with his help…first to escape and then out of respect.

The film has a lot of ground to cover and has to prove itself every inch of the way.  There are a number of ceremonies the film covers of the Sioux Nation and while the film can’t successfully explain the spiritual motives of every one of the documented ceremonies, it can touch on the torture Morgan must endure before they Tribe believes he is man enough for the Chief’s daughter, Running Deer [Corinna Tsopie (a greek actress)].  Yes, the Sun Vow is torture porn at its … most memorable.  Still brutal in spite of the age of the film and still every bit as painful to watch as it was when it was first released, the scene in which Morgan hangs suspended from talons hooked through his pecks is achingly real.

Silverstein might montage it up a bit too much from time to time but, given the era’s demands and influence, the effect is incredibly in place and something to be envious of.  Let’s face it, when did you last see a really good montage in a film?  There is an art to it and A Man Called Horse succeeds in that form.  Robert Hauser’s camera captures the mood and spirit of the frontier with unmatched beauty and none of that is wasted by the sequences that showcase the landscape and its people in long muted stretches.

Most of the dialogue is in Sioux (without subtitles), so careful attention to the on-screen happenings is mandatory.  Even still, a large part of A Man Called Horse is silent and a bit hiccupy with its uneven pacing and alarming number of visuals (that still work) but, with the story it has to tell about a man who turns his back on the colony to become one of the colonized, most of its era-rich humorless flaws can be forgiven.  Trust me, this is one of the top ten of the western genre.  A Man Called Horse is unleashed existential western territory at its rawest.

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{2jtab: Film Details}

A Man Called Horse - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: R for violence and nudity..
Director
: Elliot Silverstein
Writer
: Jack DeWitt
Cast:
Richard Harris; Judith Anderson; Jean Gascon; Manu TuPau; James Gammon
Genre
: Western | Drama
Tagline:
A man called "Horse" becomes an Indian warrior in the most electrifying ritual ever seen!
Memorable Movie Quote: "No hole in moccasin... she tell you she is a virgin."
Distributor:
Paramount Home Video
Theatrical Release Date:
May, 1970
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
May 31, 2011

Synopsis: In 1825 an English aristocrat is captured by Indians. He lives with them and begins to understand/accept their lifestyles. Eventually he is accepted as part of the tribe and becomes their leader.

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{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

A Man Called Horse - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades
Movie

Blu-ray Disc
4 stars

2 stars



Blu-ray Experience
3 Stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - May 31, 2011
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
Subtitles
: English, French, Spanish, German, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Audio: AC-3, Dolby
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Playback: Region A, B

Certainly not unfamiliar with controversy and social debate, A Man Called Horse – with its tribal violence and mutilation - never looked better.  The 1080p transfer is somewhat of a soul-stirring performance as it reveals the potential for poetry that Hauser and Silverstein have blessed this film with.  Deep reds are revealed and the bluest of skies above soak the film with a fresh coat of paint.  Granted, this isn’t the cleanest of prints so some trace dirt and specks remain – especially when stock footage is used – but some of that can be coughed up to cross-fade grain (which very little can be done to help flush that out).

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None

Special Features:

Gulp.  CBS Films gives fans of the film a big ol’ goose egg.  There are none.

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