Release Date(s)1969 (November 11, 2014)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: D+
More Dead Than Alive is a 1969 western starring Clint Walker, Vincent Price, and Anne Francis. It was a film that was released not long after the out-of-date Motion Picture Production Code (or Hays code) was discarded. As such, it featured more on-screen violence and a somewhat darker tone than was common for an average big screen western at that time.
The film tells the story of Cain, otherwise known as Killer Cain, a reformed ex-con who wishes for nothing more than to leave his sordid past behind and live a quiet life. Unfortunately, the only work he can get is doing trick shooting in a traveling sideshow, much to the dismay and jealousy of his co-star. As he attempts to make enough money to settle down with his newly-found love interest, he soon realizes that the problems from his past are catching up with him and that he may have to face them, whether he wants to or not.
More Dead Than Alive was directed by Robert Sparr, who was mostly known for his TV work, having directed many episodes of Lawman, Cheyenne, and The Wild Wild West. Thankfully, this movie doesn’t have the appearance of something made by a customarily TV director. It featured a lot quick panning, multiple angles, fast-editing, and unusual framing techniques. It’s a film that, many years later, actually looks more sophisticated than it really is. While watching it, I felt unintentional allusions to Bonnie and Clyde at times, especially during some of the shootouts. There are also some decent performances. Vincent Price is always great, of course, but Cain’s rival, played by Paul Hampton, has some surprisingly effective moments. Walker, however, feels a little out of place in this film, and not just because of his size. He gives a good performance, but you could almost picture somebody else stepping into the role and making it more convincing (Warren Beatty leaps to mind... again, the Bonnie and Clyde connection).
That all being said, More Dead Than Alive is also a movie that fails to live up to its own style and execution. The story, while unorthodox and featuring an ending that had the potential to be very effective, never has any true momentum behind it. It’s like being stuck in a traffic jam; you drive for a while, and then you stop for a while, but not much progress is ever made. But the biggest problem with this film is its ending, which attempts to be a downer yet sails into the credits with a rousing and swelling tune about Cain’s character and his struggles (allusions to Blazing Saddles this time around). It’s a song that has no business being in the final moments of this film, as it goes way beyond simply softening the ending’s blow to the point where the hit just doesn’t connect at all, making all of the previous effort almost pointless.
Kino Lorber’s presentation of the film on Blu-ray features a nice quality transfer. Newly remastered for the format, it’s certainly an excellent HD upgrade. There’s an abundance of fine detail with a healthy and organic appearance. Film grain is ever-present, but never overburdening or intrusive. Skin tones look very natural, and the film’s color palette appears to have been preserved quite well. Bold, robust colors fill the screen, especially in the scenes involving the sideshow. Blacks are very dark, with some very good shadow delineation, and contrast and brightness levels are quite satisfactory. There’s not much print damage to speak of other than some very minor flecks, and there are no signs of digital manipulation to be found either. The disc’s lone audio track, which is an English mono DTS-HD, gives the overall presentation some surprising depth from time to time. Dialogue is always clean and clear, and the score mixes in well with some nice heft to it. The sound effects are quite dated and probably stick out more than anything else in the track, but are represented well enough. There isn’t much dynamic range to be had either, but overall, it’s a satisfactory track with no real issues to be concerned about. Unfortunately, there aren’t any accompanying subtitle options.
Like most Kino Lorber releases, this disc is light on extras. There’s a single, recently-filmed interview entitled The Infamous Killer Cain with Clint Walker and the film’s original theatrical trailer.
All in all, More Dead Than Alive isn’t a western that breathes a lot of air into the genre, nor is it a brutal assault on the early days of the New Hollywood era. It’s more of a character study that tries to push the envelope a bit, but tends to render itself moot. The film has a lot of good ideas, and its heart is mostly in the right place, but it’s still a largely mediocre affair.
- Tim Salmons