The Undefeated is an interesting John Wayne film, pairing the iconic actor with another legendary Hollywood star, Rock Hudson. The action-packed Western is about two former Colonels from the Civil War’s opposing sides, attempting to overcome their differences and working together for the mutual good. Also unusual is the post-Civil War setting of Mexico, a place rarely covered in Westerns during this specific era. The Undefeated is one of the better entries in John Wayne’s distinguished career as he plays a character that his fans will immediately recognize and feel comfortable with.
Former Union Colonel John Henry Thomas (John Wayne) leads a small group of his former soldiers after the Civil War, taming wild horses in the American West for work and planning to trade them to the U.S. Army. When U.S. Army purchasers try to undercut the agreed pricing on 3000 horses, John Henry takes a better offer from Emperor Maximilian in control of Mexico. John Henry is a man’s man, admired and respected by his cavalry unit for his even-handed leadership and calm demeanor. This role plays to John Wayne’s innate strengths as an actor. The stoic heroism and no-nonsense attitude are part and parcel of the character he plays in The Undefeated.
On a parallel track is former Confederate Colonel James Langdon (Rock Hudson), leading a group of Southerners to Mexico at the invitation of Maximilian. These Confederates refuse to concede the Civil War after General Lee has surrendered and plan to start over with their families in Mexico. Langdon is bringing his entire family to Mexico, including his wife (Lee Meriwether) and young daughter (Melissa Newman). The long journey through hostile territory is a desperate gamble for his group of Southerners but Langdon seemingly can’t comprehend living in the South after its defeat. He goes as far as burning his own plantation instead of letting carpetbaggers claim it after the war.
The two rival leaders eventually meet up somewhere in Northern Mexico. John Henry and his group continue to lead their horses further south into Mexico when he stumbles on the group of Confederates led by Langdon. John Henry recognizes the potential danger both groups are in from various Mexican bandits and revolutionaries, as the internal political conflict inside Mexico is looking more and more volatile. John Henry’s relationship with James Langdon becomes friendlier as they get to know each other, leading to some mingling between the disparate groups in this new era after the Civil War. John Henry’s adopted Indian son soon becomes infatuated with Langdon’s daughter, Charlotte. That causes some trouble in the tight-knit group of Confederates.
The two leaders don’t have much time to enjoy their new friendship, as Langdon’s group is targeted by Mexican bandits looking to rob them of everything. It is only with John Henry’s help that the group survives the attack. More trouble ensues for both groups as they get swept up between opposing factions within Mexico. John Henry is presented with a moral dilemma that involves Langdon’s family’s lives hanging in the balance.
The Undefeated is a strong Western with plenty of action and a solid cast. It plays out as a small-scale metaphor for the healing process gone through in the United States after the Civil War, as both sides realize they need each other in the end. It is a classic for John Wayne’s many fans but it should have something to offer for anyone interested in historical Westerns.
Fox has delivered a strong film transfer for this new Blu-ray of The Undefeated. The 1969 Panavision film looks great with what appears to be a transfer from a new film scan of high-quality elements. It can be said that The Undefeated can’t look much better than this in 1080P resolution. The 118-minute main feature has been encoded in AVC at a very generous 30.49 Mbps video bitrate. It easily replicates the film master’s original grain structure without a hint of artifacting. The Undefeated is properly displayed at its theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
The actual film print is in sparkling condition with nary a sign of damage or real debris. This transfer was almost certainly taken from the original camera negative and its clean appearance is a testament to the fabulous condition of those said elements. The type of inherent resolution and detail found on this BD indicates a very recent image harvest without any digital noise reduction or sharpening applied after the fact. This effort is on par with some of the best film transfers already released on the format and is a credit to Fox’s recent wave of catalog product on Blu-ray.
Most striking about the picture quality are its color balance and saturation. The color palette has been rendered in perfect balance with well-saturated primary colors and healthy flesh-tones. For a dusty Western at times, the lush greens pop on the screen with vivid clarity. The widescreen cinematography takes full advantage of the panoramic shots featuring hundreds of wild horses or long stand-offs between armies. It contains a lot of classic Western imagery captured on film.
Fox has included both the original mono mix and a new surround mix in lossless form. Purists might want to hear the 1.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack for authenticity, but the 5.1 DTS-HD MA option provides a richer, more satisfying aural experience. The mono mix isn’t bad for what it represents but the more expansive surround mix delivers a fuller sound with better fidelity. Dialogue is still mostly anchored to the center channel, but The Undefeated’s score is spread out across all channels in a pleasing manner. The mono presentation feels closed-in and pinched by comparison. Both are serviceable soundtracks with minor faults.
Fox has included a wealth of dub and subtitle options for international viewers. Dubs included are Spanish Dolby Digital Mono, French DTS 5.1, Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, German DTS 5.1 and Italian DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. Optional white subtitles display within the 2.35:1 framing of the scope movie: English (SDH), French, Spanish, Dutch, German, Italian, and Japanese.
The only bonus content included are three trailers.
Theatrical Trailer (03:01 in 480i)
Spanish Theatrical Trailer (03:01 in 480i)
Portuguese Trailer (03:01 in 480i)
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