In 1955, Jacques Tourneur’s Wichita hit theaters, a gritty and atmospheric thriller that has since been largely forgotten. Despite its neglect, the film has recently been given a high-definition revival from Warner Archive, offering a fresh chance for audiences to discover this forgotten masterpiece of film noir.
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A look back to when Wichita was released
Wichita was released in the mid-1950s, a time when the film noir genre was at its peak. Directors like Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Huston were pushing the boundaries of the genre, exploring new themes and visual styles. Tourneur, known for his work on films like Cat People and Out of the Past, brought his own unique vision to the table, crafting a film that is both stylish and suspenseful.
Despite its critical and commercial success at the time of its release, Wichita has since fallen into obscurity. This is likely due to the fact that the film never gained a large following, and its themes of small-town corruption and moral decay were not as popular in the 1960s and 70s as they were in the 1950s. However, in recent years, there has been a renewed interest in film noir, and Wichita is now being rediscovered by audiences and critics alike.
Let’s actually talk about the movie
Joel McCrea stars as the enigmatic Wyatt Earp, who rides into Wichita, Kansas in the early 1870s as the cattle trade is transforming the city into a chaotic, vice-ridden boomtown. Hired by the local business owners to bring law and order, Earp sets about ruthlessly imposing his own brutal version of justice, while displaying more sympathy for the outlaws than the so-called respectable citizens who hired him.
Full of murky motivations and ethical compromises, Wichita dismantled the white hat/black hat dichotomy of previous westerns and left audiences uncertain who to root for. This profoundly unsettling experience was too much for many in 1955, and Wichita met with mixed reviews and modest box office. But the film’s daringly ambiguous take on western mythology have earned it a cult following over the decades.
The movie is finding new fans
Watching Wichita today, it’s easy to see why it’s gained a new following. The film’s visuals are stunning, with a sleek black and white aesthetic that adds to the overall atmosphere of tension and suspense. The performances are also top-notch, with a talented cast that brings the characters to life in a believable and compelling way.
One of the most striking things about Wichita is its exploration of themes that are still relevant today. The film tackles issues of corruption, moral decay, and the blurred lines between good and evil. These themes are just as relevant in today’s society as they were in the 1950s, making Wichita a timeless film that continues to resonate with audiences.
Warner Archive has another winner
Sourced from a new 4K scan, the Blu-ray provides dazzling clarity that brings out the visual mastery of Tourneur and cinematographer Harold Lipstein. Details once hidden in murky panoramic vistas now reveal their intricacies.
The 4K restoration displays magnificent texture in faces, costumes and natural landscapes. Film grain is refined but retained, avoiding excessive digital noise reduction for a beautifully filmlike image. Contrast levels exhibit exquisite balance between blacks and whites. The depths of Tourneur’s expressive shadows now come through without crushing detail.
The original mono sound mix is presented cleanly and without distortion. The sparse dialogue and sporadic gunfire have admirable range for a film of this vintage. Hans Salter’s haunting score rings out nicely while retaining its thin but atmospheric quality.
A final word on the Wichita Blu-ray
For special features, you get a classic cartoon. But, it’s a rather great Deputy Droopy one. I love that dog.
Wichita is a forgotten masterpiece of film noir that deserves to be rediscovered. With its stylish visuals, talented cast, and timeless themes, it’s a film that continues to resonate with audiences today. Warner Archive’s recent Blu-ray release is a must-have for any fan of the genre, offering a high-definition revival of this underappreciated classic.