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This is actually a new DVD version of The Outlaw Josey Wales which now houses a number of extras that I'm sure fans will be starting to think about ditching their old version for. And if these same people haven't gotten around to buying the DVD yet, then I bet they'll be thanking their lucky stars for not having done so :-).

The Outlaw Josey Wales is played out against the end of the American Civil War, and ironically was filmed whilst the Vietnam War was drawing to a close. As much as Clint Eastwood testifies that the last line he utters in this movie had nothing to do with the general feeling towards this conflict, it still seems a bit opportunistic to say it anyway. The Outlaw Josey Wales is probably the first movie ever to portray the Native Americans in a way that is neither clichéd or idealised, which shows the last remnants of a once proud culture who have become little more than a shadow of their former selves - whereby they blindly follow the law of the white man, having lost all the fight that had once made them independent long ago. And before Dances With Wolves came onto the silver screen, The Outlaw Josey Wales cast real Native Americans for the part of Native Americans... as against white men painted in dark makeup saying "How!"

How d'ya reckon that ol' nag'd taste like on a bun, eh?
As far as this movie's plot and motivation is concerned, the story first seems to be little more than a tale of revenge and retribution.  Even with Clint Eastwood's unique direction adding much more to this fable than the average non-Eastwood westerner, I can't help but think that the anti-war message being uttered by his character is constantly at odds with the actions taken against his enemies. Ultimately his desire to seek vengeance against those who were responsible for his family's death goes into almost inconsequential killing of personnel who have had very little to do with the attack on his home life in question - sure he has to defend himself, but he has to start practising what he preaches as well.

For my own view on the Western movie in general ... I've always come to associate the genre as ancient history, where every single Westerner ever made was always popular. However, it is my understanding now that in the late 60s & early 70s, this era on celluloid was already way past the audience to accept as a valid form of entertainment, let alone serious storytelling. Clint Eastwood felt that there was much more to the Wild West than what was idealised in the fun romps devised by a seriously misguided film outhouse such as Hollywood. So regardless of the fact that early America was barely portrayed in the true light that it should have deserved in the first place, this was an era that was nearly always ill-conceived by film-makers (and by result) ill-perceived by film-goers. Subsequently (as the documentary itself explains) no one at the time ever gave credit for Clint Eastwood's instinct for a less sanitised look at the old west... and as a critic had once said; "Doing a Western in the '70s was financial leprosy in Hollywood". Then against all these odds, it received critical acclaim from the industry, the fans and the doubters in general.

Well, at least you can't say that this film wastes time getting started! After seeing a literal snippet of Josey Wales' (Clint Eastwood) newfound farming life, his entire family is butchered in front him and all his worldly possessions destroyed by a ragtag group of soldiers who belong to what is known as the "Redlegs" of the Confederate Union. From the ashes arises a man with no desire to live except to settle the score with those responsible, and as it turns out a group of men arrive announcing their intention to "set things aright". After many a skirmish ensues, the men are ultimately offered a peace treaty that would see them surrender their arms and be able to return home.

There are many plot points that follow which would end up spoiling the movie for you, but suffice to say that Josey Wales finds himself with nowhere to run and everyone following him to collect on the unfair bounty that is placed on his head. His self-serving devotion to the narrow-minded retribution he has placed for himself is ultimately given a backseat when he decides to help an innocent immigrated family against the brutality of the war, possibly as some sort of redemption to his inability to save his own. Here he learns to care again about people other than himself in which he ultimately he discovers that the only way for any man to live is to reconcile with his foe.

Demon Barber Of Fleet Street ... Eat Your Heart Out!
This is a surprisingly clean print with only a couple of instances of major dust and specks in the blue-hued montage clips at the beginning of the film, as well as some obvious white speckles in the darker sequences - both of which are thankfully few and far between and were not overly distracting to the movie as a whole. There is virtually no grain present, and it is a very finely detailed image with no bloom or blurriness. The colours are somewhat sepia in tone, with just enough distinction between the basic hues to at least distinguish who the "Redlegs" are in the movie. Shadow detail is the one thing that tends to suffer the most in this otherwise fine transfer (for reasons I will go into below).

There are a lot of dark scenes with very little lighting (at the request of Clint Eastwood himself) that sets the mood for these sequences (of which there are two types involved). The first type of dark setting involves indoor footage in which the brightest sections are of the actors themselves, and there is just enough here for us to make out the body language and facial expressions, although the background itself is pretty much indistinguishable. The second type is in the outdoors where some key scenes involving the actor’s faces almost become obliterated by the surrounding bright scenery, I believe this was purposely done so as to provide ambiguousness about some of the characters' motivations. So whether the lack of any shadow detail is an artistic decision or a technical one for the DVD encoders, the black level is very deep and has no distracting artefacts.

The sound mix is just as amazing (comparatively) as the video restoration... this remastered 5.1 remix is easily in the same league as those found in the Dirty Harry DVD series released earlier.

Dialogue is always the most important factor of any soundtrack to me, and this mix exhibits a good level of clarity throughout - it is typically dated sounding with the commonly limited frequencies inherent, but it's not nearly as bad as other movies of this vintage. The sub-woofer gets plenty to do with effective support of all gunshots, booms and body thuds which are perfectly blended without making themselves obvious or detached in any way. Rear split-surround activity is amazingly verbose and involving for the viewer - quite a feat for a film entering its 3rd decade of existence.

The additional language soundtracks are kind of odd - the French 1.0 mix is typically TV crappy-speaker sounding, whilst the Italian 1.0 mix has an audible hiss that sounds like you have a gas leak in your house somewhere.

Thankfully we are treated to something more than the theatrical trailer and one-page cast & crew that has adorned the majority of Clint Eastwood (and other WB) DVDs of late. There is a short introduction by Clint Eastwood before the movie that helps to set you up for the viewing. There is also a small promotional featurette, "Eastwood In Action", that was produced the same year as the movie that holds limited appeal in my view.

The most notable extra is the very informative 29 minute "Hell Hath No Fury: Making-Of" featurette which firstly recaps the outline of the plot (whereby we learn that Josey Wales is a former soldier of the Civil War, something that isn't even established in the movie itself). It then continues with retrospective interviews from the surviving cast & crew members 30 years later, as well as various behind-the-scenes footage shot at the time of the filming (of course). This documentary goes into great detail about the look that Clint Eastwood strived for which involved being at the right place in the right season and his philosophy regarding how he felt he should portray this story on-screen (notwithstanding the many historical inaccuracies of the events that actually happened in the Civil War).

So The One-Armed Fisherman Says:  "I Caught One This Big!"
I did enjoy this movie, even though I expected the slow pace to wane my interest before long, however the characterisations provided a great variety of detail that helped keep my interest up. In short, the action (and the reasons for it) tended to make the story fall flat compared to the interpersonal dialogue between the characters (which is sometimes quite in-depth)... so you'd be wise not to expect thought-provoking gunplay if you want to enjoy this movie.

The informative half-hour featurette certainly helps to round off the brilliant transfer on this DVD, but I'm afraid this is really only for the die-hard Clint Eastwood fans out there.