When you look at the MASSIVE number of feature films John Wayne made in his nearly 50-year career, some films link together easily (the Howard Hawks' westerns, the John Ford 'Cavalry' trilogy, most of Duke's War-themed movies), but many enjoyable features aren't as easily combined, and the "John Wayne Legendary Heroes Collection" offers a strange but entertaining mix of several different genres, from three eras in the Duke's career.
From the 1940s comes the best film of the collection, "Tall in the Saddle", one of the finest 'B' westerns ever made. Written by lifelong friend, actor Paul Fix (who plays a villain), and co-starring two Wayne favorites, Ward Bond and Gabby Hayes, the film is really a 'whodunit' set in the Old West, spiced up with liberal doses of humor and sex appeal (provided by smouldering Ella Raines). Tightly scripted, with a short (87 minute) running time, this RKO release makes up for any lack of polish with plenty of excitement, and the Duke's sexy 1940s charisma.
The 1950s are represented by two Warner productions; "Blood Alley", the more entertaining of the pair, is a farfetched but enjoyable anti-Communist adventure set in China, as captured sea captain Wayne is rescued to transport a Chinese village to freedom, in a run-down steamboat. Lauren Bacall is one of his romantic interests (an imaginary girl Wayne created to stay 'sane' in prison is the other), with Paul Fix, Mike Mazurki, and even Anita Ekberg(!), playing 'Chinese' villagers. Cheesy, but it offers plenty of action, and does keep your attention! "The Sea Chase" is another story; starring Wayne as an anti-Nazi German ship captain(!) attempting to return his vessel to the Fatherland at the start of the war, the film manages to be both boring AND unbelievable, with little chemistry between him and Lana Turner (in their one teaming, together). Paul Fix again appears in a small role, as does James Arness, Wayne's protege and future star of "Gunsmoke". Wayne looks suitably serious in the role, but is totally miscast.
Skipping the 1960s, the collection finishes up with two more Warner films from the twilight of Duke's career, in the 1970s. "McQ", Duke's late entry into the 'Maverick Cop' genre that Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen had made popular, was, in a sense, making up for his turning down "Dirty Harry", a few years earlier (he was offered the role, before Clint Eastwood!) As a grizzled veteran cop investigating his partner's murder, Wayne discovers a trail of corruption leading back into his department, and in true 'Duke' fashion, he gets hold of a lethal-looking machine pistol and starts blowing away the bad guys! Honestly, he was looking far too old and tired for high-speed chases and hopping into the sack with Colleen Dewhurst(!), and seems distinctly ill-at-ease in the role (he would be far better in his next 'Cop' film, "Brannigan").
Fortunately, the collection finishes up on a brighter note, in Burt Kennedy's "The Train Robbers". While this comic western is, at best, a pale shadow of Duke's classic oaters, it does team him up with long-time friend/co-star Ben Johnson, as well as Rod Taylor (who works surprisingly well with the two western 'veterans'). Best of all, Wayne and Ann-Margret are terrific together, with teasing asides of her obvious sex appeal and his being too old to take advantage of it! Forget the plot, of a buried payroll and the various people out to get it; enjoy the easy comraderie of a group of screen pros!
While this collection certainly isn't the finest of the Duke's work, there are some good titles, here, and these ARE 'New to DVD'...If you are a John Wayne fan, you certainly have reason to celebrate!