The Return Of A Man Called Horse Blu-ray Review

Richard Harris returns as Horse in this Irvin Kershner sequel

Before Irvin Kershner would go on to direct a little movie you may have heard about called The Empire Strike Back, he tackled mostly small movies like this Western drama. The Return Of A Man Called Horse is the first sequel to the cult Western favorite starring Richard Harris.

A Man Called Horse was a unique entry in the Western genre, told almost entirely in untranslated dialogue and with a more understanding perspective on Native American life than the usual Hollywood fare. This sequel is a more conventional adventure movie than the original with a greater focus on traditional action. Some consider this sequel more entertaining but less introspective and meaningful. That has led to a split among many fans as to which movie is better. A second sequel was made in the Eighties that most consider a far inferior effort.

A Man Called Horse was memorable for its story of an English gentleman going to the American West in the 1800s and eventually becoming an adopted member of an Indian tribe. It was a mystic, heartfelt approach to Native Americans, exploring their culture in ways unseen in Hollywood before that point. Featuring little dialogue in English and a more respectful perspective on Native American culture, it came out of left field from a Hollywood that often painted Native Americans as little more than cartoon villains.

In many ways the Yellow Hands tribe and its people were the real protagonists of A Man Called Horse, not Richard Harris’ central English character.┬áHis John Morgan takes a prominent direction in leading the tribe for the sequel. Many think it was the direct inspiration for Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves. There are a great number of similarities between the films.

Richard Harris comes back as Sir John Morgan in The Return Of A Man Called Horse. Having lived for five years with the Yellow Hands Sioux tribe as a full-fledged member of the tribe, the Englishman finds his life dull and without meaning living back in England. Since Morgan’s departure, the Yellow Hands have fallen on hard times. Government trappers with the aid of another tribe have pushed them off their sacred burial grounds, enslaving their women and murdering many of their warriors. Geoffrey Lewis (Bronco Billy) plays Zenas, the head of this new trading post that serves as the nominal villain.

When Morgan sees the sad state of his proud former tribe, he devises a plan to give the Yellow Hands back their land before Western Expansion gets out of control. It’s a more straightforward adventure in that sense than the original’s tender sketch of Native American culture. A Man Called Horse was all about Morgan’s internal acceptance of Native Americans and their lifestyle, told with humor, romance, drama and some light action. Morgan this time wants to restore the Yellow Hands to their rightful lands and once again hunt buffalo through guile and force.

A Man Called Horse and this standard sequel feature elements that would make it in some form to his Dances With Wolves.

This sequel mixes English and Sioux dialogue far better. The original had long sections of untranslated Sioux dialogue without providing English subtitles. That made it a more demanding and intense since you had to draw things out from facial expressions and context. The Return Of A Man Called Horse offers brief English translations for the most important exchanges, and Morgan speaks more English this time around. It makes for an easier, pleasant movie unless you happen to speak this particular Native American language.

There are some elements which derail things if you aren’t fully invested in the Western drama. A bloody purification ritual from the original movie is repeated. While it was definitely one of the original’s shocking and memorable moments, it’s gratuitous this second time and somewhat pointless in the narrative. Others have complained that for a movie with excellent attention to detail in period accuracy, some of the Native Americans are clearly played by Caucasian actors. While that makes some viewers today cringe, it wasn’t that unusual when the film was made.

It is evident that Kevin Costner had seen both Horse movies before Dances With Wolves. While that Academy Award winner stands on its own, both the original A Man Called Horse and this standard sequel feature elements that would make it in some form to his Dances With Wolves. Some fans of the original were disappointed with the conventional adventure tale found in The Return Of A Man Called Horse, but it’s a petty complaint. This is a strong sequel that works on its own.

Return of a Man Called Horse Blu-ray screen shot 15

Video

Olive Films delivers a steady, mostly unrestored presentation for Irvin Kershner’s sequel. The 126-minute main feature is encoded in AVC on a BD-25. Licensed from MGM, the film elements used for this transfer are in stable condition with little notable damage. The 1080P video lacks the wow factor seen in new film scans on Blu-ray. This is an ordinary catalog presentation we’ve come to see with some regularity from MGM-licensed discs.

The older film transfer is shown at its correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Noted cinematographer Owen Roizman (The Exorcist) employs an unusual mix of soft-focus shots around Richard Harris and far sharper exteriors in the American wilderness. There is practically a romantic lighting glow around him, found more often around female stars in this period.

The transfer shows evidence of some filtering, mildly affecting the native grain structure of Horse’s 35mm film. It’s possible that is the result of inadequate compression more than digital or analog processing, some of the grain in sky shots are blocky.

This isn’t a striking presentation of Blu-ray definition or detail, but it certainly shows a substantial improvement over the available DVD edition. Its contrast and black levels are decent, adding new clarity to the occasionally impressive panoramic cinematography.

Audio

Laurence Rosenthal provides one of the more sweeping, symphonic scores you’ll hear for a 70’s Western. The audio is a stereo mix heard in an excellent 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. Dialogue is crisp and completely intelligible.

Information indicates this movie was originally made with monaural audio in mind, but it also received a 6-track 70mm print. That must have been used to create this somewhat crude stereo mix, which has an obnoxiously wide soundstage at times. Its clarity and fidelity are robust for a genre flick from the Seventies.

Optional English subtitles for all dialogue is included inside the scope presentation in a yellow font. Fixed English subtitles translate all important Sioux dialogue.

Extras

Theatrical Trailer (03:15 in SD)

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