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Nevada Smith (1966)

 

Starring: Steve McQueen, Karl Malden
Director:
Henry Hathaway

Rating: NR

Studio: Paramount

Review Posted: 4.21.03

Spoilers: Minor

 

Reviewed by Dennis Landmann

 

Synopsis

 

Nevada Smith is a rugged innocent boy born in thei1890s during California's gold rush days to a Native American mother and white father. When he finds his parents have been murdered by vicious killers, he sets out to track them down. He becomes a lone gunslinger who is so blinded by his compulsion that it obscures any other motive for living.

 

Critique

 

The late Steve McQueen stars in Nevada Smith playing one of his most challenging characters. He is Max Sand, a boy without an education but a knack for revenge. It is safe to say McQueen owns this film. Whether heís believable playing a boy or not, he takes the character to great lengths and creates the right kind of sympathy the audience can acknowledge and appreciate. Going back to believability for a bit, Max canít be older than eighteen to be considered a boy. McQueen was 36 at the time the film was released, so why was he cast to play Max? Iím not sure who thought he could pass for Max without raising other peoplesí eyebrows. This is only a small concern and doesnít affect the flow or purpose of the film.

 

As for the character, Max is on a journey to find the killers and take revenge by killing them. While this premise is as small and one-sided as it sounds, screenwriter John Michael Hayes constructs some subplots and exciting action in between to add some drama and sincerity to the story. His journey is exciting to follow right up until the very last scene, but then the film just ends. This makes sense, but isnít satisfactory. Questions remain, such as where is Max going now? How is he going to continue his life? Any indication or answers to those and other questions would have created a better ending.

 

The contribution of supporting players Karl Malden, Arthur Kennedy, Brian Keith, Suzanne Pleshette, and Martin Landau provide much-needed backup for McQueen even though each of their screen time is limited. Malden is especially fun to watch as the main bad guy. Landau is in the film for only ten minutes or so, but his cameo, if you want to call it that, is a pleasure to watch. Director Henry Hathaway takes the screenplay to great lengths. His sense of direction, mood, and action create a great environment for the western genre Nevada Smith is playing to. Hathaway and crew supply the film with many great visuals and locations. The film spans well over several states and warrants many different locations and sets. Each location is constructed very well, whether is be either by man or nature. To sum up the film, Nevada Smith is simple, yet constructed and executed beautifully.

 

8 out of 10

 

The Video

 

For the first time on DVD, Nevada Smith looks really good. Paramount presents this film in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Compared to the VHS presentation, which really looks its age, the DVD presentation holds a really nice upgrade. Gone are most of the grainy images, dark tones, lack of color detail, and the meek black level. I wonít say the transfer is anywhere near excellent, but it is very much impressive. Paramount and Co. improved on the many grainy images and lines of the print. Even though the presentation still carries noticeable grain and such, the overall transfer is still impressive. The color palette is used very effectively with a nice variety of color detail, but I noticed some forms of edge enhancement along the way. Overall, Nevada Smith deserves praise and the improvement from the crappy VHS presentation is a job very well done.

 

7 out of 10

 

The Audio

 

Nevada Smith is presented in Dolby Digital English and French Mono soundtracks. Front speakers get all the attention while the rear speakers are mostly ignored. The film relies on its audio presentation in many occasions and sadly there isnít much quality to support it. Dialogue is very clear and Alfred Newmanís score comes across very nicely. Despite the lack of actual surround sound, Nevada Smith offers a mediocre presentation thatís not as bad as it might seem.

 

7 out of 10

 

The Extras

 

Donít look for anything in this section. The inclusion of English subtitles is a mandatory standard now, but thanks for them anyway, Paramount. Other than that, this area is as blank as a blank check.

 

0 out of 10

 

Overall

 

Nevada Smith is a western with all of the necessary ingredients for very good entertainment. With the help of Steve McQueen and a strong supporting cast, the film plays to near to perfection, supplied also by a strong script and direction by Henry Hathaway. The DVD includes a neat update of the print, but lacks special features. All things considered, Nevada Smith makes the western genre look damn good.

 

Overall DVD Rating: 6 out of 10 (not an average)

 


 

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- Fun in Acapulco

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