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East of Eden and Rio Bravo Join WB’s Parade of Classics on 4K

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Continuing their year-long 100th anniversary centennial celebration, Warner Bros. Studios and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment upscaled two more cherished classics to the 4K Ultra HD level of physical media. On August 1st, the 1959 western favorite Rio Bravo and 1955’s familial drama East of Eden hit store shelves in the new format. Unlike the last previous releases, these two packages leave traditional Blu-ray behind and only come with 4K Ultra HD discs and digital codes. That’s quite the dedication to top resolution. Unfortunately, the fullest dedication to everything else is missing.



The title screen of "Rio Bravo"
Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Eleven years after his seminal western Red River, director Howard Hawks re-teamed with screen legend John Wayne for Rio Bravo. This marked the director’s first film in four years and Wayne’s return to westerns after temporarily avoiding them after The Searchers. For John Wayne at age 51, he considered Rio Bravo his transition to middle age. This was the last time he wore his same trusty hat since 1939’s Stagecoach and footage from this would make it into flashbacks of John’s final film The Shootist nearly twenty years later. 

While John Wayne was still the major draw, Rio Bravo is also known for showcasing crooner Dean Martin and being a launching pad for the fresh-faced Angie Dickinson and budding recording artist Ricky Nelson. This was Martin’s first western during a career of mostly comedies and Dickinson’s largest role to date. The real catch was Ricky Nelson showing he was all grown-up after being a longtime child actor on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet right before cracking the Billboard Top 100 with a string of hits.

The film itself surrounds a week-long wait for higher authorities to arrive at the town of Rio Bravo to take into custody arrested murderer Joe Burdette (Claude Akins of The Caine Mutiny). The prisoner’s powerful gang supporters, including his ranching baron brother Nathan (TV star John Russell), begin to gather in town to spring him from jail. It’s then up to the the only three lawmen in town—Sheriff John T. Chance (Wayne), his recovering alcoholic partner Dude (Martin), and the old cripple Stumpy (three-time Oscar winner Walter Brennan)—to quell the coming ruckus. Caught in town during this time are stagecoach passengers Colorado Ryan (Nelson), a quick-triggered whiz with a pistol, and Feathers (Dickinson), an independent woman drawn to gambling and (later) Chance.


The title card screen of "East of Eden"
Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Based on John Steinbeck magnum opus novel of the same name, East of Eden was director Elia Kazan’s return to Warner Bros. four years after A Streetcar Named Desire and his follow-up the year after On the Waterfront dominated the Oscars and netted Kazan his second Academy Award for Best Director. East of Eden generated even more accolades in Kazan’s direction with four Oscar nominations of its own, in addition to being nominated for the Palme d’Or at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. 

One of those four Oscar nominations was a posthumous one for its lead actor James Dean. East of Eden was Dean’s largest starring role before his untimely death and is often regarded as his career best performance. He’s the volatile crux of what has long been considered an American Cain and Abel story.  

Kazan’s film adapts the fourth and final section of Steinbeck’s book. East of Eden was filmed in and around the rural Salinas Valley area of California and set during the time of World War I, Cal Trask (Dean) is a wayward and emotionally-troubled man who considers himself at odds with his brother Aron (Richard Davalos, in his film debut) for the loving approval of their father Adam (Abe Lincoln in Illinois Oscar nominee Raymond Massey). Their family dynamics tailspin around their work within the cash crop family business, marital prospects to further generations, and their tenuous relation with the boys’ estranged mother, played by Jo Van Fleet in an Oscar-winning performance. 


The 4K UHD disc cover art for East of Eden
Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

The biggest plus for the 4K discs of Rio Bravo and East of Eden come from their meticulous restoration results. Working in partnership with The Film Foundation, both films were restored and remastered by Warner Bros. Post Production Creative Services: Motion Picture Imaging and Post Production Sound, a creative endeavor launched by Martin Scorsese in 1990. The effort really shows. 

In either the digital form or the disc form on 4K, the movies themselves have never looked better. The wider color spectrum akin to 4K is off the charts for Technicolor films of this vintage. The sound bolsters the tight western action sound effects of Rio Bravo and the sweeping overture and score selections of Leonard Rosenman in East of Eden. Unfortunately, the technical merit is where the perks end with both disc packages.

The 4K UHD cover art for Rio Bravo
Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

For many film fans, pristine versions of the classics are probably enough. Sadly, Warner Bros., as they’ve shown during this centennial rollout and before it with the gradual graduation to 4K UHD discs, has drastically shrunk the special feature offerings included for both titles. The only special feature of any kind available for both films is a commentary track. On East of Eden, the commentary comes from film historian and longtime Time Magazine film critic Richard Schickel. On Rio Bravo, the commentary is a blend of separate tracks from Schickel and beloved genre filmmaker John Carpenter. Schickel is always very complimentary and clinical with these audio guides where it’s nice to get more than two cents from a mind like Carpenter’s.

Gone from East of Eden’s definitive 2005 Special Edition DVD are the one-hour Forever James Dean documentary, the Art in the Search of Life remembrance interviews, and all of the complimentary screen tests, wardrobe tests, premiere footage, and deleted scenes that made the Special Edition live up to its name. The 4K couldn’t even carve space for a trailer. Rio Bravo had less available from its previous Blu-ray edition and 2007 Special Edition, yet the 33-minute Commemoration: Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo and the hour-long Men Who Made Movies documentary inclusions would have given rewarding history into the film’s director and his legacy, let alone the John Wayne-centered profiles.

Instead, newbies, if you will, learn nothing extra if they come to discover East of Eden and Rio Bravo for the first-time if they come to 4K UHD for the home theater boosts. Combined with WB’s plain-jane menu design, having only commentaries counts as pitiful treatment for these two classics. By not adding the rich background nuggets, pieces of history are lost. Sure, the movies themselves are going to look great, but they deserved better.

Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing here on Film Obsessive as the Editor-in-Chief and Content Supervisor for the film department. He also writes for his own website, Every Movie Has a Lesson. Don is one of the hosts of the Cinephile Hissy Fit Podcast on the Ruminations Radio Network and sponsored by Film Obsessive. As a school teacher by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a voting member of the nationally-recognized Critics Choice Association, Online Film Critics Society, North American Film Critics Association, International Film Society Critics Association, Internet Film Critics Society, Online Film and TV Association, and the Celebrity Movie Awards.

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