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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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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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TOP 500 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 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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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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on 13 May 2015
Classic John Ford based on a true event.
John Wayne playing the real Colonel Benjamin Grierson, the Grierson raid. Buffs remember the Confedrate Cavalry commanders like Start, Forrest, Morgan, Shelby and Moseby.......not many on the Union side.
A nice selection on the supporting cast...the Ford Stock Company... and William Holden
A must for movie people
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on 24 March 2015
Yet another John Wayne film as normal around this time he was at the peak of his career and most of his films have been shown lots of times , this time he's in partnership with another well known actor William Holden who plays the part of a doctor in the American civil war.
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John Wayne teams up with William holden and eminent western director John Ford for this frontier actioner packed with laughter romance and thrills. This faithful representation of one of the most daring cavalry exploits in history is both a moving tribute to the men who fought and died in the bloody war and a powerful action packed drama. Based on an actual civil war incident the horse soldiers tells the rousing tale of a troop of union soldiers who force their way deep into southern territory to destroy a rebel stronghold at Newton station. In command is hard bitten colonel Marlow (John wayne) a man who is strikingly contrasted by the company's gentle surgeon (William holden ) and the beautiful but crafty southern belle (Constance towers ) who's forced to accompany the union raiders on perhaps the most harrowing mission of war. 114 mind approx in colour a John Wayne classic I would highly recommend this.
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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 12 March 2014
Colonel Marlowe (wayne) is sent south to bandy station to disrupt the railway
There. To add to his troubles he's assigned a medical unit (Holden)
Although the fight at bandy station did take place,I think history has been changed
To suit Wayne's inclusion. Good film though
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