Olive Films has released the 1919 film Wagon Tracks on Blu-ray. It is taken from a print housed at the Library of Congress. Is it worth an addition to your movie collection or should it be sent out to pasture?
Wagon Tracks is directed by Lambert Hillyer, a former journalist, who entered into film just a couple years previous to this release. His specialty became Western films and he ended up with 167 directing credits. The film was written by C. Garnder Sullivan who also was prolific with 197 writing credits. His most noteworthy contribution was the film All Quiet on the Western Front.
The film stars one of cinema’s earliest notable onscreen cowboys, William S. Hart. Hart was extremely popular and was emulated in other films. His look, character portrayals and mannerisms became stereotypes in the western genre. In real life he was friends with Wyatt Earp and Amelia Earhart. This isn’t known as his most popular work, but his acting efforts still shine.
Wagon Tracks is a simple story. It had to be as silent films needed to be pretty straight forward. It’s the tale of Buckskin Hamilton (William S Hart), a man of the mountains who is tasked with guiding a wagon train across the wasteland. Not only does he have to care for the pioneers he is assisting but he has to deal with his brother’s murder. The audience is shown exactly what happens right from the start. So it’s not as much of a whodunit as it is a study of the man’s character in coping with what happened and then what he does at the revelation of the truth.
The film moves along at a relatively brisk pace at 68 minutes. The photography is well done for the time period but it is still pretty basic in shot composition. Obviously, silent films are a little more overacted and exaggerated to convey emotions to the viewer. However, I felt like this film tried to be a bit more restrained. William S Hart does a good job with his expressions and mannerisms. He played it a bit more understated than I was expecting. This film has a lot of heart.
Rather than being presented in black and white the film is color tinted. The day time scenes, firesides and interiors are more along the lines of sepia with nighttime being done in blue. Each frame is hand tinted so there are noticeable fluctuations of color. I’m not entirely sure how much work was done on the restoration (if any). The details and quality are decent, comparatively speaking. Obviously this film is almost 100 years old so expect to see scratches and missing frames and editing anomalies. I don’t think these things take away from the film, but rather adds character to it. Your opinion may vary.
I thought the details in the costumes and actors expressions were nicely done and this is probably the best the film has looked for a home release. The sound is stereo and is an original composition written and performed by Andrew Earle Simpson. It is fitting for the time period. Wagon Tracks is presented in it’s original 1:33.1 aspect ratio. This is a Region A release.
There are no special features on this release.
Wagon Tracks Final Thoughts:
Modern audiences will probably not have much patience for a film like this. I think you already know if an almost 100 year old silent western is for you. The story is simple and the characters are straightforward. There are no cinematic spectacles or surprises in plot, but to me there is a beauty to this simplicity and leisurely pacing.
The color tinted photography is good but not spectacular. It is not the top of the silent westerns but still an enjoyable and solid production of it’s time. I would like it if there were some sort of special features. Still, I am glad Olive Films decided to release this on Blu-ray for people to enjoy. Wagon Tracks is an important part of American film history. You can pick up your copy here on Amazon if this kind of film interests you.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process