Monte Hellmanís Ride in the Whirlwind comes to Blu-ray from Criterion. It is presented in its original aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc with a new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer. It shares the disc with The Shooting.
Ride in the Whirlwind is probably the better looking of the two films, though it has more to do with the filmís general look rather than the transfer. The Shooting has a very monotone look to it, which is what Hellman was going for according to the audio commentary for that film. This film is a bit richer in its presentation of colours, with the various shades of red and browns in the landscape leaping through far more clearly. The blues in the sky are richer and cleaner as well, and the greens in the vegetation look great.
The digital transfer has some of the same issues as what can be found in The Shooting: film grain is present though not always rendered as cleanly as I would hope. It mostly looks fine but there are moments where it looks a little blocky or more look noise, mainly in vista shots. Itís not as noticeable as it is in The Shooting, though that may have to do more with the fact that that film had so many shots of barren landscapes it was just more noticeable. Still, despite these slight issues the transfer is otherwise sharp, delivering an extraordinary amount of detail in close-ups and longshots alike, with stable movement, and an overall filmic look. The print has some minor marks and some dirt on the edges of the frame in places, but itís been cleaned up remarkably well and is in far better shape than I ever would have expected. Overall itís an impressive image. 8/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Both Ride in the Whirlwind and The Shooting are presented on the same dual-layer Blu-ray (I suspect the DVD edition will feature each film on their own disc) and share the same supplements, though each does get their own audio commentary. The tracks feature Hellman along with film historians Bill Krohn (from the L.A. division of Cahiers du cinema) and Blake Lucas. In comparison to the track for The Shooting this one gets a little more technical in nature, with Hellman talking about his style of filmmaking, the number of takes heíll make, his style of editing, how he likes it when accidents happen on set (like a hat blowing off), and so on. Hellman also talks a lot about Nicholsonís script, Nicholson apparently having done a lot of research while writing it. Lucas and Krohn talk about the filmís editing, Nicholsonís performance, and then Roger Cormanís films in general. It may be the weaker of the two tracks but itís still an enjoyable and insightful one.
The other supplements on the release are shared between the two films, made up mostly of interviews, though oddly seem to concentrate more The Shooting over Ride in the Whirlwind.
House of Corman is a quick 6-minute interview between Hellman and Roger Corman. Throughout both commentaries Hellman mentions how much Corman hated the scripts and at one point even threatened to fire Hellman because he was printing too many dailies (budgets were limited so Corman preferred his filmmakers to only print what they would actually use). Corman denies this to an extent. He claims he never threatened to remove Hellman, but admits that the scripts, as he read them, needed more action (some of his suggestions for Ride in the Whirlwind did make it). The two also talk a bit about the general atmosphere working under Corman and Hellman also covers the various things he learned. Surprisingly short in length (though not the shortest interview here) but a great addition for sure.
The Diary of Millie Perkins features a nice 16-minute interview between Hellman and Millie Perkins. The two reminisce on making the two films, recalling some frustrations (Hellman didnít want her to wear makeup but she always snuck some on), her reading of the characters and the little things she threw in. They also talk a little bit about Warren Oates, horse riding, and the overall experience, which she was grateful for.
Whips and Jingles is a discussion between actor Will Hutchins and film programmer Jake Perlin about Hutchinsí work on The Shooting. Despite the lack of Hellman this one actually proves to reveal a bit more, especially behind-the-scenes. Hutchins recalls some of the conflicts that occurred on set, primarily because of the budget. Jack Nicholson was acting as producer and would confront Hellman on a few occasions over concerns (as we find out through other features the films, which had a combined budget of around $150,000, came in under that). He also shares how some scenes came about, including that great one where he runs across screen with the flour blowing everywhere, and talks about his co-stars, including how Oates was apparently a great charades player. He also compares that independent environment to the studio environment and then recalls how he first saw the The Shooting theatrically in France (his girlfriend at the time commented on how great Jack was). Though I get the feeling Hutchins wasnít as close as everyone else that is interviewed here it proves to be the more amusing of the interviews.
Blind Harry may be the more disappointing feature on here just because of who itís with and how short it is: it features the always great Harry Dean Stanton but only runs just shy of 3-minutes. Stanton simply talks about how he came to be cast on Ride in the Whirlwind and the trick to playing an ďauthority figure.Ē He also talks about how he possibly spent time in jail during the shoot but isnít entirely sure. Itís a funny interview but shockingly short.
The True Death of Leland Drum features Hellman talking with actors B.J. Merholz and John Hackett, who had roles in either film. Like just about everyone else they talk about riding horses and the trouble they had with that, and share other stories from the set. Merholz, though, who had possiblt the shortest part in The Shooting, ended up becoming a page of sorts, and was the one who would deliver messages to and from Corman: Merholz is the one who tells Hellman that he was at risk of being fired because of all of the dailies he was printing, and also tells him about Cormanís general displeasure with the films.
On a more technical level is the 19-minute Heart of Lightness, a discussion between Hellman and assistant cameraman/assistant director Gary Kurtz. Kurtz was brought on by Corman (he had worked on a number of other features for him) and the two talk about the difficulties of the shoot, the equipment used, and how certain shots were achieved. We also learn their packaged lunches werenít very good. They also talk a bit about Corman, his obvious concerns over budget, and how he decided to continue with a film or not. There are a few more anecdotes from the set but this one stands out more for the mere fact we get more details about the technical difficulties in making the two films.
Also great is an interview with horse wrangler Calvin Johnson, found under The Last Cowboy. There are plenty of anecdotes about Johnson throughout the features and itís nice to finally meet the man. He talks about his contributions working with the certain actors, particularly Perkins, while also talking about the landscapes that were chosen to shoot against. Mixed in with this is footage of Hellman revisiting some of the locations and some wonderful footage of the different colours found across the rather vast landscape. Another fascinating inclusion, with Johnson a great subject.
The only thing close to a scholarly supplement, other than some of the comments by the two critics in the commentary, is An American Original, a video essay by critic Kim Morgan, who goes over Warren Oatesí career and his appeal, particularly to the likes of Hellman and Peckinpah. The 14-minute feature is a wonderful tribute of sorts, looking at his wide range of work, from his westerns to his work as GTO in Two-Lane Blacktop to appearing opposite Bill Murray in Stripes. Though mostly comprised of photos from his films I was surprised to see some great looking high-def footage from Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (making me regret not upgrading my DVD to the now out-of-print Twilight Time Blu-ray) but disappointed to see some not so great footage from Cockfighter, which looked like upscaled standard-definition footage (so maybe itís not coming as soon as we would hope?)
The release then closes with a nice scholarly essay on the two films by Michael Atkinson.
Though the commentaries somewhat fill the void, as does Atkinsonís essay, the lack of scholarly material is disappointing, as is the lack of Nicholson, who played a huge part in getting these two films made (I assume he was unavailable as he is usually pretty good at participating in special features, even when heís not directly involved with a film, like his participation in the features for Líavventura). Still the material is great and all of it is worth the time of going through. 8/10