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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 April 2011
Colonel John Marlowe (John Wayne) is asked to take his Union calvary troop deep into Confederate territory to destroy the railroad and depot at Newton Station. Much to Marlowe's chagrin, regimental surgeon Major Henry Kendall (William Holden) is also along for the mission. With both men completely at odds with each other as regards adherence to duty and the execution of war. Things are further complicated when the brigade rests at Greenbriar Plantation, because Miss Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers), the plantation's mistress, and her slave Lukey (Althea Gibson) eavesdrop on a staff meeting thus hearing the plans about the raid. To protect the mission, Marlowe is forced to take the two women with him.

John Ford's venture into the American Civil War is adapted from Harold Sinclair's novel of the same name. The story is based around the true story of Grierson's Raid and the climatic Battle of Newton's Station, which was led by Colonel Benjamin Grierson who, along with his men, rode hundreds of miles behind enemy lines in April 1863 to blow up the railroad between Newton's Station and Vicksburg, Mississippi. Thus giving Confederate General John C. Pemberton a whole heap of problems.

What is at first the most striking thing about The Horse Soldiers is the chemistry between Holden and Wayne, friends in real life they were and my how does it show here. It gives the film a real sense of believability, the characters may be at odds as the ideological conflict between the military and the medical professions shows its hand, but a respectful, almost friendly rivalry shines thru from the two icons of machismo. Tho often described as one of the lesser lights in the John Wayne/John Ford partnership, The Horse Soldiers contains all the stock features that make up the best of Ford's Oaters.

The Duke, Holden and bright eyed Constance Towers are obviously well framed in gorgeous settings, William Clothier working his photography magic in Louisiana and in and around Natchez, Mississippi. The lead song is a rousing one as Stan Jones warbles 'I Left My Love,' and the piece is chocked full of interesting characters fleshed with Ford thematics. Respect, strength, a love of your country, all given an observational, and customary, sheen from the master director. Ford even takes time to vent his spleen at cowards, courtesy of an engrossing sequence involving Strother Martin, while a running theme of surgery, particularly the legs, gives the piece a dramatic and honest historical core. The battle scenes are as to be expected, handled with skill, with a poignant moment as Confederate Cadettes are sent out to fight by the besieged superiors being as sad and indicative of the War as it is important in the context of Ford's story telling.

Off camera the shoot was not without problems, Ford was battling the bottle and was making everyones life a misery, particularly The Duke. Things were further darkened when Ford's friend, Fred Kennedy, a retired stuntman, asked for a job in the film on account of being broke financially. Reluctantly agreeing he allowed Kennedy to perform a basic stunt of falling off a horse. But tragically, Kennedy broke his neck during the stunt and was dead before reaching the hospital. Ford was shattered, closing down the location site and returning home. The final battle scenes were eventually finished at San Fernando Valley, from where Ford headed to Hawaii and hit the bottle big time. 7.5/10
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on 27 November 2013
While never regarded as a top tier John Ford western by critics, film scholars or indeed fans probably down to the fact that this 1959 effort came between two of Fords most memorable films in the form of The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Horse Soldiers still remains an interesting and entertaining entry with two strong performances by Ford's regular hero star John Wayne and William Holden fresh off a sterling performance in David Lean's Bridge On The River Kwai. Commercially successful and as to be expected from John Ford very well made, The Horse Soldiers also marks the only movie he directed that was set primarily around the American civil war.

Now I will not go into detail on the synopsis of The Horse Soldiers as there are dozens of detailed reviews here already so I concentrate on what I find most important when reviewing a classic film on Blu ray disc. How does it look and sound. The Horse Soldiers comes saddled with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer framed at the correct aspect ratio of 1.66:1. It appears that MGM havent given this title much of a restoration and indeed it can look very untouched and not at all polished but that isnt necessarily a bad thing as the image remains extremely filmic thanks to a wonderful grain structure. Now this film has always been a grainy picture and fans can rejoice in the fact that no DNR has been used to smooth away this grain meaning that the image retains its strong textures and detail. Clarity whether it be on faces, clothing or locations is suprisingly good and depth is apparent in the many outdoor daytime scenes. Colours are mostly good from the greens of the vegitation to the blues of the Yankee uniforms and skin tones on the whole are mostly natural looking. Black levels are good enough with decent shadow detail and only a mild amount of crush. Softness does creep in occasionally and usually around scene changes which can look a little jarring and print damage is visable in the form of speckles and the occasional line but is thankfully nothing that would ruin the overall viewing enjoyment meaning that while this is never going to be a demo disc it is certainly an improvement over any previous release.

MGM remain authentic to source with the sound and instead of a 5.1 bump have opted for the original monaural mix presented here in a lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. This is ok whilst never being overly dynamic. Dialogue is mostly clear and music gets a healthy enough boost in lossless but the track can get a little muddled and cramped especially during battle scenes with both music and effects fighting for space. Thankfully though there are no real age related problems with pops, crackles and hiss kept to a complete minimum and sounds of gunshots and artillery whilst never room shaking have a good amount of weight.
Unfortunatly MGM havent included any extras for this Blu ray release apart from the original theatrical trailer presented in full HD 1080p.
Not the best Ford/Wayne movie out there but still a well made and thoroughly enjoyable cival war adventure that will please fans of John Ford, John Wayne and western completeists. Recommended

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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 19 January 2014
What excites and delights the eye is the painterly look of this hugely underrated late Ford near-masterpiece. William Clothier was the cinematographer, and he deserves much of the praise for the glowingly autumnal scenes which follow one upon another, ravishing the viewer. Ford as director might have framed the shots, but it is the actual look of the film that turns it from a good Civil War story into something very special.
Wayne is terrific, as he so often was in his later movies, such as the Howard Hawks `trilogy` and The Shootist, underplaying to poignant effect.
Holden seems a little underused, or should I say his character isn`t developed as much as it might be. But Holden was an actor incapable of giving anything but his natural best, and he`s excellent here too.
The revelation to me was Constance Towers, an often undervalued actress who was very effective in a couple of torrid Sam Fuller films, who turns out to be one of Wayne`s most interesting, and least fawning, leading ladies. Her quick change from flirtatious to steely is subtly done, and she gives her role a toughness that seems both unforced and unmannered.
Many of the Ford stock company are present and correct, including a cameo from the ubiquitous Strother Martin (without whom no western is quite complete) and I`m sure I saw Ward Bond in a tiny part, though he doesn`t appear to be listed in the credits.
I seriously think this is better than several more celebrated Ford films. For one thing, there`s no attempt at what Ford imagined was humour, and which spoils many scenes in his movies - his idea of humour tended either to have Wayne and his leading lady swap badly timed mock-insults, or Wayne and a male co-star indulge in glaringly unfunny, clunking knockabout. Even The Searchers (Ford`s best film in my view) suffers a little from this.
Along with Hawks`s Rio Lobo and Ang Lee`s Ride With The Devil, this is one of the best Civil War films I`ve seen. It`s not perfect, and much is left unresolved, but for its sheer beauty and its eloquent understatement (rarely a Ford trait) this deserves to be better known.

Do see this fine film.
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The Horse Soldiers is usually damned with faint praise as one of John Ford's lesser Westerns, especially compared to his famed cavalry trilogy. It's not hard to understand why: despite the big budget and substantial resources it's more an okay film than a particularly good one, hobbled by a clumsily manufactured central conflict that simply doesn't ring true and a few too many plot turns that go nowhere. John Wayne is the ex-railroad engineer turned Union colonel sent behind Confederate lines to destroy their railroad tracks to disrupt their supply lines, which should be enough for a decent Western, but the film takes an early turn into the desperately contrived by having him take an instant dislike to William Holden's surgeon who has been foisted upon him - not because of a clash of personalities, which might make sense, but because he thinks doctors are charlatans using soldiers to experiment on... You can guess why he has that view long before he drunkenly reveals it, but the only way that it could have generated any real dramatic sparks if is Holden had been the doctor concerned instead of a nice guy who just rubs the Duke up the wrong way.

You know they'll eventually learn to respect each other but the scriptwriters can't really build any real drama out of such shaky foundations, and since they're also the producers there's no-one to tell them to go back and think about it some more, reducing Wayne to the usual default by-the-numbers grumpy and obstinate persona of his lesser pictures and Holden an amiable figure more bemused than frustrated by him. So to up the ante a little they have Wayne forced to take Constance Towers and her faithful slave Althea Gibson prisoner after they learn his plans, with the inevitable romance slowly brewing. In fact, much of what happens in The Horse Soldiers takes it's time to brew and it certainly never really comes to the boil. There are some good moments, like the battle at a railway depot, but others, like the threat of having to fight against children from a local military academy, are dodged because everyone just behaves too gallantly for this particular war. (The final battle sequence was also scaled down after the death of stuntman Fred Kennedy in a horse fall.) Still, you do get to see Hank Worden made up to look like Abe Lincoln's cousin and cinematographer William C. Clothier makes it look good, especially when Ford is filling the screen with men and riders, though it doesn't look quite as good as it should on a rather disappointing DVD transfer that's a definite step down from the old laser disc release and will hopefully have been remastered properly for Bluray. There are a few bits of print damage too, while the original captions identifying the locations have been removed and replaced with computer generated ones for the Region 2 DVD, which does at last include a brief trailer as an extra. MGM/UA's region-free Bluray apparently only has a longer trailer as extra with only marginally improved picture quality.
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on 30 June 2007
THE HORSE SOLDIERS (1959) directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne this is their penultimate Western together, sandwiched neatly between the vastly superior THE SEARCHERS (1956) and THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962). Nevertheless this is fine film, which returns once again to Ford's beloved US Cavalry that was depicted so wonderfully in the so-called Cavalry Trilogy some ten or so years earlier.

This American Civil War story is based on a true successful incident in 1863 known as Grierson's Raid. General Ulysses S. Grant sent a brigade of Union Cavalry under Colonel Benjamin Grierson though enemy-held territory from southern Tennessee through Mississippi to Louisiana to the union-held city of Baton Rouge. The purpose was to destroy enemy rail infrastructure so creating a diversion from the Union's main attack on Vicksburg. Ford has taken some poetic licence with the story but is pretty even-handed in his story telling of a period in American history that set North against South and brother against brother, that resulted in the loss of over 620,000 men.

Ford's version is taken from a novel "The Horse Soldiers" by Harold Sinclair and has a former railroad builder Colonel John Marlowe (John Wayne) leading his mini-brigade through enemy territory to attack the Confederate held Newton Station, along the way at Greenbriar he picks up "southern belle" Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers) who has overheard details of the forthcoming raid also frustrating his efforts is his new Regimental Surgeon Major Henry Kendall (William Holden). Other contentions are his second in command Colonel Philip Secord (Willis Bouchey) is more interested in securing an election victory than a military one. The rest of the cast is made up of many of Ford's regulars including Ken Curtis, Hank Worden and former cowboy star Hoot Gibson.

This may not be John Ford at his very best, but the film does contain some excellent sequences in the directors' best manner including: The horse soldiers on the skyline, The aftermath at Newton Station, The young cadets advancing on the Union troops, The charge over the bridge at the end and last but not least the scene where Towers is serving supper to Wayne and his men at Greenbriers, she asked an embarrassed Wayne "What is your preference leg or breast?" during which time Ford gives us a daring (for the 1950's) view of Miss Towers cleavage!

The filming on location in Louisiana came to an unsatisfactory conclusion when one of Ford's regular stuntman Fred Kennedy was killed whilst falling from his horse during the final battle scenes at the bridge. Ford was very upset and lost interest in the film, so they packed up and went home. Later additional footage was shot back in The San Fernando Valley, California to complete the film!

Transfer to DVD is just about okay; included are the original theatrical release trailer with interactive menu screens and chapter selections. All Ford / Wayne Westerns are worthy of treatment to the highest standard available in Restoration and Presentation. Still pretty good value for money though!
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on 9 September 2008
Yet again the Ford/Wayne team deliver the goods. Loosely based on a factual action during the U.S. civil war, Wayne leads his union troops deep into the conferacy, the supply depot and railway infrastructure at Newton station is the target. The first part of the film is fairly slow moving, emphasis placed on Wayne's dislike of surgeon Kendall (William Holden) who has been added to his command, and the needless introduction of a female lead (Constance Towers), nice on the eye, but surplus to requirements, as the plot here has the troop constantly on the move.

The real action starts at about the hour mark with the battle and ransacking at Newton station, followed by the events of the journey back to the union lines. Plenty of fighting (gun and hand) from here onwards, plus moments either humorous or poignant, always building up to the closing battle enroute to Baton Rouge.

Most of the usual suspects are there in support, and the ending has a twist regarding the Wayne/Holden situation.
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VINE VOICEon 15 January 2009
John Ford only made one film about the American Civil War; this 1959 offering which gives a fictionalised version of Colonel Benjamin Grierson's raid through the Western Confederacy during the Vicksburg Campaign of 1863.

John Wayne plays the Grierson character - called Marlowe in the film - while William Holden - in laconic good form - plays a doctor Marlowe (Grierson/Wayne) is forced to take with him down south.

Early on the raiders stop at the plantation of a Southern Belle - played by Constance Towers - who learns of their objectives and has to come along for the ride. Ms Towers - in a risque scene for the time - thrusts her impressive decolletage at Wayne and enquires whether he wants more breast or leg - chicken that is.

The three leads are fine and many of the famed 'John Ford Company' are working 'in the ranks,' but the film never achieves the granduer or urgency of the director's other three US Cavalry Westerns. Partly this is because the locations are not Monument Valley, but mostly, I feel, this is because this is NOT the US cavalry, but the Union cavalry. Hollywood Civil war films have an obvious problem; no bad guys. Sure the South were the baddies in historical reality - they're the ones with the slaves - but many of the audience watching this in 1960 were from Southern states, proud enough of their confederate heritage to have the Stars and Bars in the State flags. Hardly good for box office to paint them too badly.

With Indian westerns, however sympathetic you might be to native americans, the identification is going to be with cavalry for the overwhelmingly non-native american audience. This one isn't so clear cut.

As a result there are surprisingly few Civil War adventure films.

There are a number of excellent set pieces in this film; the attack by confederate troops jumping out of a train (which does kind of imply they are monumentally stupid - more concerned with the flag flying than shooting back) and the advance of military school kids against Wayne's veterans.

The plight of the black slaves is not really addressed, though Tennis star Althea Gibson got her acting run-out as the Southern Belle's ill-fated maid.

Holden, as stated, is pretty good. His tension with a doctor-hating Wayne is as ersatz as the coffee the Confederacy is left with, but he's laugh out loud funny on occassions. His little aside about 'southern people having their own help,' nodding at Ms Gibson is probably the best line in the film.

His quips are not as funny, however, as Wayne when he declares love for the Southern Belle - who has now seen the horror of war and is a better person (yawn) - right at the end. It's a real where-in-Hell-did-that-come-from moment.

This is not a Western classic, but it's well worth watching.
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on 17 October 2013
The acting is fairly standard fare and you get to know the story line in the opening titles.
An eventful journey to the very end and hangs together all the way. It runs through a full course of basic human emotions without too much melodrama, notable exceptions for example, when the Wayne character loses the plot in the saloon bar scene in newton station - can a man that large really be 'feeling his liquor' after just 2 shots?
The relationship between Wayne and Tower and Wayne and Holden dissect in importance towards the end and the way the former is portrayed verges on the endearing - surely a rare Wayne moment.
Makes some social and political comments - although I've never been quite sure if it was intended to question prevailing issues in the 1950s or just simply conservative reflections on the civil war.

I've been watching this movie since about 10 years old - one of few movies that bares watching many times over across life changes.
9 out of 10

I'm still trying to find a copy of this movie with the scene at the rail station as the replacement Sargent is trying to get on the train but Wayne's men drag him off to return him to base. Any suggestions welcome.
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on 26 June 2011
The Horse Soldiers represents the 11th outing of John Ford and John Wayne. Having created the seminal Westerns Stagecoach, buy the Criterion Blu Ray it's wonderful, and The Searchers some of the other collaborations are a little below par, unsurprising when we have the aforementioned films as benchmarks!
The Horse Soldiers sits comfortably in the upper bracket without ever really reaching the heights of it's predecessors to call it an out and out classic. The story is fast paced and laced with a good dose of underlying humour, most through Constance Towers (slightly miss cast in the role IMO), " Care for some more leg or breast? as she leans over the table with the lowest cut top. Wayne replies "No thank you mam, I've had quite enough". It's a solid Wayne Western.
Onto the Blu ray itself: The colours are vibrant but unfortunately that is where the Blu ray transfer seems to stop. The picture quality is no better than the DVD with the exception of 40% of the close-up scenes which suddenly burst into life and looks great. It is a travesty given the importance of these films and how good transfers can be. If you compare this to How the West was Won, another Ford and Wayne collaboration, albeit John Wayne is only in it for a few minutes, you will see the difference. The Cinerama version of How the West was Won is truly breathtaking and a wonderful transfer. The Horse Soldier alas has been give a cheap update; the film deserves better.
Having said all of the above this version is the best currently available so it's better than not having it at all. We can only hope that maybe a special edition, similar to The Comanchero's digibook a must buy!, may be released in the future. If you can look past the average quality mixed with nice hi def scenes its' an enjoyable film and one which deserves more credit out of the Ford/Wayne collaborations.
4 stars for the film, 3 stars for the transfer
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on 17 June 2007
It may sound hard to believe but this film starring the superb John Wayne and William Holden, directed by the legendary John Ford is SO boring and despite my being a big fan of all involved turned out to be one of the most boring films Ive ever seen. The characters were badly written and you never really got to learn anything about them, the direction was flat and as for the female lead....well she was atrocious. The saving grace was a few brief scenes towards the end when an army of young cadets join the war, which was quite moving but apart from that its not a film Id care to sit through again.

Also, the picture quality is very grainy and obviously not in its original viewing format as the credits at the start are displayed with letters missing on both sides making you wonder how much effort has been put into this release.....
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