The Outlaw Josey Wales

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George
Extras: Trailers, Production Notes

Clint Eastwood is a man of many talents and he has become absolutely iconoclastic in two very different genres. His action-thriller Dirty Harry character is still one of the toughest cops around, and his portrayal of the Man Without Name remains one of the most memorable Western heroes. Nevertheless the actor and director never really treaded in the same paths, repeating himself too often. Ever so regularly he plays with the genres he prefers to work in, and adds new facets to the characters he played before. "Absolute Power" is such an example in the thriller genre and "Unforgiven" is clearly the one in which he almost reversed the perception of his best-known Western characters. "The Outlaw Josey Wales" is also a good example for this progression in Eastwood’s work. Although he conjures up the image of the lightning fast gunslinger once again, this time he has a name, a heart and true motivations, all three elements hardly found in the spaghetti westerns that made him the star he is.

Helplessly farmer Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) has to watch as his wife is raped and killed and his little son is burned to death inside the family’s house, when ravaging soldiers invade and destroy the family idyll out of nowhere during the civil war. Josey, the only survivor of the massacre becomes an avenger and joins a band of rebels who hunt down all such bandits and oppose the newly founded union. Slowly however their time seems to come to an end. The troops of the new United States Of America hunt down everyone who does not swear an oath to serve and protect the country. When his rebel companions decide to lay down their arms and surrender, Josey becomes one of the last outlaws of the West. With the army in his back, he tries to escape their reach and flees deep into Indian territory, but the soldiers keep hunting him relentlessly. The only way to put an end to this hunt is to oppose them, but that turns out to only leverage the bounty on his head and also attracts bounty hunters from across the country. In this seemingly hopeless situation, Josey Wales meets Lone Watie (Chief Dan George), a Cherokee Indian, who himself is rather disappointed by the way the American government treated him. Together they try to find a way to safety and peace.

"The Outlaw Josey Wales" might look like one of Eastwood’s early European Westerns by the cover, but it soon becomes evident that this gunslinger has more heart and identity than his previous characters. Establishing a strong motivation for Josey within the first few minutes of the film, Clint Eastwood’s character is always sympathetic. No matter what he does, no matter how bad he becomes and no matter how cold he acts, the viewer can always relate to him. Not only does it make the character more believable, it also creates a much stronger moment of drama when Josey seems to lose ground to the posse that hunts him. Eastwood’s rooted and natural play also adds immensely to the character’s overall credibility. It always surprises me how comfortably Eastwood seems to handle the different tasks on his films. He is doing a great job directing his movies and capturing the essence of what viewers want to see, while he also routinely puts in great performances as one of the leading characters in his movies.

But also in other areas the film hardly works with established clichés, as his previous films did all too easily. "The Outlaw Josey Wales" is one of the few films of its time that portrayed Indians as a soulful people who have lost their ground and most of their hope. Not only does the film away with the gruesome image of the bloodthirsty Indian killing sprees, it actually establishes proud and honest characters like Ten Bears and Lone Watie. In fact, Lone Watie has some of the funniest and veritable lines in the entire film. He becomes Josey’s conscience and help driving the story home.

Just as in his other Westerns, the photography plays a very important role in this film. Panoramic shots establish a feeling of grandeur. Using colors efficiently, the film contains some spectacular framing techniques that vastly increase the visual impact the film has on the viewers. At the same time, atmospheric interior shots and efficient use of backlit photography creates a strong visual contrast between characters, almost serving as individual visual cues for each of them.

Clint Eastwood’s films are classics and it is great to see them treated with the respect they deserve. Warner Home Video has created a very nice transfer of the film for this DVD. Presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer in its original theatrical <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio, the image is clear and very well defined. There are no noticeable artifacts and the picture contains generally a very high level of detail. Even the dark nighttime scenes and the dimly lit interior shots are usually very well reproduced and don’t pose any problems to this <$RSDL,dual layer> DVD. There are a few scenes however where the film print used shows age and the slightest signs of discoloration, producing an image that contains no real black but rather dark grays. In general however, the transfer boasts very strong colors and solid blacks, with very natural colors and faithfully rendered fleshtones. Interestingly, the film’s opening credits exhibit some truly noticeable dust and speckles on the print, while the rest of the film is virtually free of these problems and very clean.

"The Outlaw Josey Wales" contains a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix that works quite well. It is not nearly as aggressive as modern mixes, but still creates a nice surround field with some active effects. Although the soundtrack is quite old, it never sounds thin as many other tracks of the time and also doesn’t exhibit the often found artificially sounding dialogs.
Jerry Fielding composed the engrossing score for "The Outlaw Josey Wales". It is a score that is as complex as it is intriguing. Fielding oftentimes uses dissonance to add drama to the film’s scenes without ever overstating them, always keeping the texture at a level that works almost subliminally. He also uses percussion instruments a lot as the basis for his score and makes efficient use of the traditional instruments to create a feel of the great outdoors. The disc contains an English and a French soundtrack, as well as English and French subtitles.

The disc also contains a number of background information and liner notes as well as an unbelievably large number of trailers I gave up counting them after I had reached 14.

Here we have a classic Clint Eastwood western and Warner Brothers as a publisher of the DVD. You can hardly go wrong with either one of them, but nevertheless I feel this release is notable. The film makes a strong statement and effortless pulls you through an over 2 hour drama with a captivating story and stunning pictures. It has a good sense of humor, never taking itself too seriously, while addressing the matter at hand itself quite honestly. It has now been transferred to DVD by one of the leading companies in the field and the result is a gorgeous release that many DVD owners will no doubt cherish. If you are an admirer of Clint Eastwood’s work in any form, make sure to give this disc a try. You won’t be disappointed.