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The One Thing
City Slickers is a fantasy of old America, where the key to happiness lies somewhere out west. The vast urban city centers crush dreams and wire people differently, or so says City Slickers. Mid-life crisis won’t happen to true cowboys. They found the one thing that makes them happy.
It’s such a spirited film, energized by Billy Crystal’s comedic dryness and that rare story of male friends bonding rather than competing. Crystal, Daniel Stern, and Bruno Kirby form City Slicker’s center, a trio of talent and chemistry as they trot their horses over what remains of the true American west.
Each of their characters finds themselves amid personal struggles. Stern is newly divorced, Kirby can’t settle on a woman, and Crystal hates his job. That spurs them to take a break – two weeks worth – to find where they sit in life. It’s an inspired film concept, more so for a comedy, if ultimately making things look all too easy. Moving some cows from New Mexico to Colorado cures the depression of turning 40. Who knew?
A sensational score adds to the western vibe, a mix of thematic joy that showers the dusty open plains with classic western symphonies. City Slickers uses its music intelligently, carefully moving with these characters, light and breezy as needed, sour and droopy come dramatic highs.
Along the way, they laugh. So too does the audience
Along the way, they laugh. So too does the audience
At times, City Slickers stretches its legs too far. A fight over a gun seems pulled from another movie, or trying to situate City Slickers as a true western. Either way, it’s clumsy.
Jack Palance landed a supporting actor Oscar for his work here as Curly, and he’s as true to the genre as anything. A lifelong cowboy, Curly’s tough and grizzled, a near fantasy as he toys with his knife, but also a guiding hand.
In a masculine film where the guys trade barbs about women and debate marital conduct, City Slickers finds, through Curly, a tender side. That’s rare. Movies starring three guys pushing and roping cows don’t do that; often, it’s more about work ethics and how men establish their dominance. Not City Slickers.
As much as it pushes a western fantasy, it’s ultimately a story about men accepting who they are, and understanding their place. The west saved them from being suffocated by skyscrapers, but they don’t leave dominant men. Rather, empathetic, perceptive, and enlightened. Along the way, they laugh. So too does the audience, giving City Slickers an unending place among the ‘90s comedies.
Shout Factory debuts a newly minted 4K scan with this City Slickers release. It’s a beauty. Stellar color is the immediate standout. All the green scenery takes off, mixing with other saturated primaries to give this comedy renewed visual life. Blue skylines stick out and Crystal’s proudly worn Mets gear adds to the palette.
With much of City Slickers taking place outdoors in natural light, the contrast jumps out. High brightness mingles with tremendous black levels. Only on a few occasions does the latter slip, generally at night letting in some grain within the shadows.
Preserved grain jumps about, switching between thin and thick, scene dependent. Shout’s encode keeps up. Behind the grain is rich, textural qualities, delivering on facial detail or the hair on Norman the cow. Long shots of landscapes fall to the horizon line unblemished.
What this new scan doesn’t do perfectly is clean-up. Minor specks and scratches persist, never excessive or overbearing, but noticed. That’s minor, but in this era of flawless catalog releases, it’s worth noting.
A 5.1 mix in DTS-HD expands City Slickers as needed. The key sonic sequence is the stampede, pushing adequate bass as cattle runs past the camera, surrounds tracking the movement. This is mirrored in the opening scene, the running of the bulls, that places the animals behind Crystal as he runs. Even the cartoon opening credits spread around as the characters rope stuff.
For the finale, there’s a thunderstorm. Thunder catches the low-end and rain produces a great spread. While bass isn’t the tightest, there’s enough rumble to leave a mark. Overall City Slickers is mixed a bit on the low side, so prepare for a minor volume bump.
Director Ron Underwood joins his stars Billy Crystal and Daniel Stern for a commentary. Underwood pops back up to narrate an alternate ending later on the disc. Four featurettes come in next. Back in the Saddle is the main making of, with cast and crew recounting their work. The writing is featured in Bringing in the Script, assessing the development process. Norman the cow gets his due in A Star is Born, focusing on the birthing scene. Finally, there’s The Real City Slickers, interviewing those who actually take these vacations.
All together, the featurettes run over an hour together. Note the quality is visually low, including a stuttering frame rate that leaves them appearing choppy.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
City Slickers holds up for its ability to avoid the typical pitfalls of a male-driven comedy, choosing a softer, gentler take on mid-life crises.
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